DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Panic Hand
by Jonathan Carroll
St. Martin's Press
ISBN 0-312-14698-1
Hardcover/ 304 pp./ $23.95

Jonathan Carroll is an extraordinary writer, a fact that critics are constantly touting and that the buying public unfortunately consistently ignores. His work is deceptively simple, easily approachable, and always original. It is to be hoped that the masses will some day recognize what literary critics and sf, fantasy, and horror folks have long known: Jonathan Carroll is a master writer.

The author of eight novels, The Panic Hand is Carroll's first collection of short fiction. The book, previously available only in British and German editions, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award and won the Bram Stoker Award as best horror collection in 1996. (The latter award, given by the Horror Writers Association, is mentioned in publicity material from the publisher of the U.S. edition -- but the dreaded "h word" is not mentioned in connection with it. The release doesn't even mention that the HWA makes the award.)

PanicHandCoverIt is not easy to label Carroll (and herein may lie his relative anonymity in the United States). The closest one can come is probably "magic realism." He takes the everyday and introduces elements of what readers, without his guidance, would otherwise think of as impossible: An imaginary friend from childhood ("Mr. Fiddlehead") reenters an adult woman's life; God, or at least part of God,is found in a cleaning woman who discovers personal artifacts long ago destroyed ("Uh-Oh City"); houses reproduce memories ("A Flash in the Pants", the only story original to the volume); dogs identify vampires ("My Zoondel") and a terminally ill child speaks to animals (the World Fantasy award-winning "Friend's Best Man"). Entranced by the author, we accept these realities without blinking. He rearranges our minds as easily as most of us rearrange our bedclothes before retiring.

"The Sadness of Detail" is an example of Carroll in Twilight Zone mode. Photos of a dismal future are offered to an artistic woman, a future that can be altered and brightened by the simple gift of one of her drawings. But the story soon reveals a senile god who needs the woman's drawings to remember -- and God must remember or chaos will reign. The author sets up no battles between the forces of light and darkness. He just tells this incidental story and leaves the rest up to the reader's imagination. A heavier hand would have made another trilogy out of it.

Psycho-stories are an ever-present and too often mundane part of horror literature. In "Tired Angel" Carroll shows just how frightening reality can be as the anonymous narrator relentlessly drives a woman mad. The only magic is the author's way with words. The story chills precisely because there is nothing in the story that could not -- can not -- actually happen.

The title story, "The Panic Hand," challenges the reader with a bewildering reality. The reader, along with the narrator, is confronted with the sexuality of a child, her inventions and illusions. Or perhaps not. Maybe it is all imagined by the narrator as he travels on a train. Almost as complex is the novella "The Black Cocktail." Vivid characters, a hurly burly of ideas, breathtaking style,and an abrupt ending force the reader to think rather than to just accept the unfolding story. Although both of these stories are perplexing, they still leave one wholly satisfied.

Carroll's stories are populated by rich, sympathetically depicted characters speaking finely honed, believable dialogue. He rarely falters in these 20 stories. His precise words grow into exquisite sentences that bloom into perfect paragraphs. For all the fantasy, the haunting considerations of the spiritual, the disconcerting angles, the occasional terror, the constant magic -- Carroll, in the end, is reassuring about the world. He brings an audacious charm and constant wit to it with his writing. We smile as often as we shudder. As profound as his stories may be, one gets the feeling that, to him, they are simply stories that should be told. And that he does -- uniquely and superbly. -- Paula Guran

|back to index|

Many of the books mentioned on this site are available through By using the link to the right to search for and order books (or anything else) you are benefiting this site. Thank you.
In Association with

[main] [about] [features] [reviews] [interviews] [link] [search]
Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.