Monday, July 26, 2010

Review: THE MARRIAGE OF STICKS by Jonathan Carroll

I finished this book a few days ago, but needed to think about it a little longer before posting a review.  Just so you are aware, this will contain spoilers, because I honestly don’t know how to talk about it without them. 

This book is a contemporary surrealist fantasy.  This book is about a woman confronted with her past and forced to accept responsibility for her past wrongs.  This book is about love.  This book is about… vampires?

While the writing was well done and at times brilliant, I found myself disturbed by the story.  In the end, it left me with more questions than answers.  Miranda is a thirty-three year old rare book dealer operating out of Manhattan.  When she goes back to her high school reunion, she discovers her high school boyfriend has died in an auto accident.  A few weeks later, she goes to a dinner party and meets Hugh, a former business acquaintance of her high school boyfriend.  They end up falling in love and moving in together in an old house in the suburbs.  Once in the house, Miranda starts to get strange visions and have ghostly encounters.  Eventually, the people in her visions begin to lead her on a journey to discover something about herself.  In one of the very last chapters of the books, Miranda discovers that she is… a vampire??  WTF?????  Okay, not in the “I vant to suk ur blooood” way, but more like a psychic vampire who takes from others endlessly without giving back.  Oh, and she is immortal in the fact that her soul can be reincarnated endless times, while the humans just fade into nothing at death. 

I have several problems with this book.  To be fair to the author, I don’t do well with surrealist fiction.  It makes me feel like I’m living in one of those dreams that keeps going on and on without connecting in on itself in any linear fashion.  I call it the funhouse effect.  I also have an issue with Miranda’s “selfishness.”  I didn’t think she was that bad of a person.  It seems if the point of the story revolves around her being selfish, we should get more of that up front.  To me she seemed like a normal woman who makes mistakes like everyone else.  I also didn’t understand why certain characters aged (Declan) while others didn’t (Shumda).  And the big reveal at the end that she was a vampire opened up more questions without giving a feeling of satisfaction. 

While I had issues with the books, I have to admit that Carroll is a brilliant writer.  His comments on Irish music and his story of the ill fitting suit were wonderful and I’ll remember them always.  I would say that if you like surrealist fiction, then you would love this book.  I think it was just not my thing. 

Overall, I give The Marriage of Sticks

Plot – 2 bookmarks
Character Development – 2 bookmarks
Writing Quality – 4 bookmarks
Love Story – 2 bookmarks
Interpretation of Vampire Lore – 1 bookmark (Could have been really cool and inventive if given more time in the book.  Instead, it cropped up right at the end and wasn’t fleshed out well.)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – The physical looks of the characters were not described to the point that I could get a picture of them.  Here is who I ended up with based on my own thoughts.  Hugh Laurie (Hugh – basically because of the name), River Phoenix (James), Hilary Swank (Miranda).  


  1. That's the whole POINT of the novel re:"vampires" and the brilliance of the story. Carroll describes a normal person who realizes through all sorts of both magical and down to earth events that she, like so many people we interact with in our every day lives, is a "psychic vampire" who get her life sustenance from others and eventually sucks them dry of their essence so that the victims have little left on which to live. You've never met someone like that? I have-- plenty of them, both men and women. When Miranda finally realizes this horror about herself, she makes the ultimate sacrifice to try and make amends. It's an astonishing book and your appraisal of it is both skewed and misses an awful lot of the important and life-applicable points it is making.


  2. Did you really think Miranda was that bad of a person though? I guess that's where I have issues. Yes, I've known "psychic vampires" and they have been a whole lot worse than Miranda. Take her relationship with James for instance. James is upset because he feels he would have had a better life if Miranda hadn't interfered with his fate. However, look at it from her perspective... She turned him down when he wanted to break into a house and have sex with her there. I don't see her decision as selfish; she was being smart. How was she to know it would alter James's fate?

  3. Again, that's one of the many important points that Carroll is making in the book about numerous human beings. No, Miranda is not bad at all. Neither are a lot of "psychic vampires"-- dominating husbands, shrewish conniving wives, selfish, self absorbed children or friends who just take take take in life and often give little if anything back. The "vampires" we know or encounter *are* normal people, like Miranda, who don't really what they are doing or what they are taking from others until they're either divorced, or hurt, or it's brought to their attention. And usually when it is brought to their attention, they either are offended or deny it completely. Carroll is saying you don't have to be Dracula to suck the life out of people-- you can just be thoughtless,or indifferent to others' situations, or any number of other seemingly mundane qualities that in the end often mess up other peoples' lives badly or at the very least, make them constantly unhappy.


  4. You make some great points! Can you answer another question that I had? Why did Declan age when Shumda didn't? Both had been given the gift of immortality by another person. I just don't understand that part. Someone else i was talking to thought maybe Shumda wasn't really there, but was only a figment of Miranda's imagination that guided her through the process of self-discovery. What do you think?

  5. It has been a long time since I read the book (although it has continued to haunt me these many years later). But as I remember it, Declan ages because he's "normal," whereas we don't know WHAT Shumda is-- real, immortal, of this earth, not... And one other thing that I wanted to add-- remember that Miranda is hit early on in the book by an ex-boyfriend who she has upset enough to do such violence to her. Maybe she was a lousy girlfriend to him or something even darker? Then for better or worse, she DOES break up Hugh's successful marriage, and I assume other things to other people, both big and small, throughout her life. Does that qualify her as a "vampire"? I think Carroll is saying no more or less than other people who let their own wants and needs stand in the way of clear judgement and correctness in life. He lets no one off the hook-- sure there are the Hitlers and other larger than life villains, but on a smaller scale there are the Mirandas who are like termites in the woodwork. Hitler and other big vampires may be tornadoes, but given long enough, termites can also destroy houses.