For connoisseurs of imaginative fiction, the novels of Jonathan Carroll are a special treat that occupy a space all their own. His surreal fictions, which deftly mix the everyday with the extraordinary, have won him a devoted following. Now, in Glass Soup, Carroll continues to astound . . . .
The realm of the dead is built from the dreams--and nightmares--of the living. Octopuses drive buses. God is a polar bear. And a crowded highway literally leads to hell.
Once before, Vincent Ettrich and his lover, Isabelle Neukor, crossed over from life to death and back again. Now Isabelle bears a very special child, who may someday restore the ever-changing mosaic that is reality. Unless the agents of Chaos can lure her back to the land of the dead--and trap her there forever.
Glass Soup is another exquisite and singular creation from the author January magazine described as "incapable of writing a bad book much less an uninteresting one."
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
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About the Author
Jonathan Carroll's novel The Wooden Sea was named a New York Times Notable book of 2001. He is also the author of such acclaimed novels as White Apples, The Land of Laughs, and The Marriage of Sticks. He lives in Vienna.
Jonathan Carroll's novel The Wooden Sea was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2001. He is the author of such acclaimed novels as White Apples, The Land of Laughs, The Marriage of Sticks, and Bones of the Moon. He lives in Vienna, Austria.
Read an Excerpt
By Jonathan Carroll, Ellen Datlow
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2005 Jonathan Carroll
All rights reserved.
A Hot, Dark Yes
"If I were married to a woman who dressed like that, I'd murder her clothes and bury them deep in a forest in the middle of the night." Flora Vaughn said this too loudly about all overdressed woman who had just passed their table. Then Flora looked meaningfully at Leni Salomon. Both of them wore the same color of fingernail polish matte brown.
Isabelle Neukor looked from one woman to the other and smiled. They were her best friends; they were all thirty-two and had grown up together. But her friends could not save her now. No one could.
Leni's cane leaned against her thigh like a silent devoted dog. She walked with a pronounced limp — her left leg was shorter than the right. She was also the best-looking af the three women but like most genuinely good-looking people, paid it little mind.
Leni Salomon and Flora Vaughn had husbands, Isabelle did not. Leni and Flora were not in love with their men, Isabelle was. Strange things had been happening to her lately; so strange that she could not believe some of them. Even after all that had happened in the last months, she could not believe these recent events had actually taken place. She had told no one about any of them, not even Vincent.
"Guess who died, like, a year ago but I just heard about it?" Flora sat back and dropped her large pink napkin dramatically onto her plate of half-eaten asparagus. She was given to stagy gestures it was her way. She had a big man's laugh. She used a lot of body language when she spoke, as if trying to explain things to a deaf and dumb world. People had different opinions about her looks — some thought she was a knockout, others that she was creepy with her very long auburn hair and almost Oriental eyes. Vincent liked her a lot. He called her "Big Red" after they met the first time and since hearing that, she often signed her notes to anyone "Red."
Leni made false teeth gold teeth, bridges, false teeth. She was a dental technician, one of the best around. She loved the job, its intricacies and complications. She called it useful architecture. When anyone asked her a question, she held it up and turning it slowly, looked at it from every angle as if it were a tooth she was making. "Someone we know or someone famous?"
Flora looked at Leni and winked. Then her eyes moved over to Isabelle and she said in an oily way "Someone you and I once knew, Leni, but who really wanted to know Isabelle."
From a blank "Huh?" Isabelle's expression slid into a frown. A few beats passed until her eyes slowly began to widen in recognition. Aghast, she put a hand in front of her mouth. "Simon?"
Flora nodded. "Dead over a year ago."
Leni gasped. "Simon Haden died?"
Flora steepled her fingers and looked prayerfully toward heaven, like a saint on a kitsch Italian religious postcard.
As one, the three women burst out laughing at the fact of Simon Haden's death.
Standing in a giant meadow next to an ugly back longhaired dog named Hietzl, Vincent Ettrich watched an airplane sail eight feet above their heads and crash nearby. Ettrich sighed. Hietzl would have sighed too if it had understood how much time and trouble its friend had put into building that plane. But the dog was so happy just to be out there alone with Vincent that its sigh wouldn't have lasted long.
Shaking his head, Ettrich walked to the wrecked model and squatted down next to it, hands on his knees. As was his style, he was dressed like a teenager — ancient washed-out jeans, gray and white skateboarder's sneakers, and a black T-shirt with a picture of John Lennon on it. Ettrich was young-looking anyway. Seeing him for the first time, you would have guessed he was in his thirties rather than the early forties he was.
Hietzl heard something and quickly turned its head to the left. Ettrich continued to stare at what was left of his model airplane and wonder what he had done wrong in assembling it. The dog began barking so furiously that Ettrich snapped out of his funk-trance and looked toward where his companion was pointing. Behind them was a giant stand of trees, their leaves blowing in the frisky warm wind. But Hietzl was pointing in the opposite direction — out toward the open field.
Puzzled, Ettrich looked down at Hietzl and asked "What? What's there?"
The dog ignored him and kept yapping.
That annoying rat-a-tat barking and the wind soughing through the trees around them was all there was. It was midsummer; a sky the color of shirt cardboard, the air heavy with humidity. No one else was around.
Ettrich came out here often with the dog to walk or lie on his back and look at the clouds. Since moving to Vienna, he had done little besides recover his strength and think about the child Isabelle was going to give birth to soon.
Ettrich had died but then been brought back to life by Isabelle. He had crossed and recrossed the great border. While on the other side he'd learned both the language and some of the requisite lessons of the dead. Alive again, he thought his mind had been wiped clean of what he had been exposed to in the short time he had been dead. He was wrong. Ettrich retained everything he had experienced. But to access that room in his mind now, he needed a key to the door. Right now he did not have one.
As soon as it was possible for him to travel he and Isabelle had left America and flown to Vienna. Ettrich left his wife, two children, and a life he had once thoroughly enjoyed and felt content with. But he abandoned it all because he wanted to be with Isabelle Neukor. He was willing to throw everything aside so that he could spend the rest of his life with her and their child. Their doubts were over. They had crossed the great bridge between now and then.
Hietzl's barking took on a new tone: it was even more urgent, as if there was real danger nearby, or they were right on the brink of something. Ettrich looked again toward where the dog was pointing but saw nothing. Still, Hietzl's agitated tone made him uneasy. For some reason — who knows why? — he turned quickly and glanced back to the place on the ground where his model airplane had crashed a few minutes before. It was gone.
Ettrich did not appear surprised. His eyes flicked here and there around the area to make sure this was true. It was — the model had disappeared. Only then did a kind of alarm show on his face. The dog was right — real trouble had just arrived.
The dog stopped a moment, and then continued barking.
"Stop it! Come on, we've got to go right now." Ettrich touched the dog on top of its head. Then he began walking back toward his car as fast as he could manage. He had not healed completely so he couldn't run. But he would have.
Two hundred yards behind them among the thick stand of trees stood another man and his dog. This man's name was John Flannery. He was portly and rather short. He wore a trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. People sometimes remarked on the resemblance between him and photos of the older Ernest Hemingway. Flannery always liked hearing that. He'd never read Hemingway but liked who he was.
Today he wore a brand-new blue T-shirt that wasn't tucked into a pair of brand-new beige shorts covered with lots of pockets. Oddly, he was barefoot although he stood on a forest floor covered with a variety of sharp stabby things.
The dog, a Great Dane with black spots scattered across its white body like ink spilled on a blotter, was named Luba. It had blue eyes and stood unmoving by Flannery's side. The presence of these two had caused Ettrich's dog to start barking. Interestingly, Hietzl had sensed them but gotten their direction wrong. Ettrich saw northing when he looked toward where Hietzl was yapping because nothing was there. Flannery and Luba stood far behind them, watching impassively, as the other two walked away and finally out of sight. Flannery held Ettrich's model plane in both of his hands. It was whole again and looked like it bad just come new out of a box.
When the others were gone, Flannery turned toward the woods and lifted his arm high above his head. With a quick flick of the wrist, he threw the plane into the trees.
Defying all laws of logic and gravity, it stayed aloft for the next twenty minutes. Even when the wind around them died completely, the small plane continued flying through the forest — around trees, beneath and above and round and round long crooked grasping branches that normally never would have let it pass. The plane flew right by those branches. It taunted them with loop de loops and sudden swerves to avoid all kinds of collisions that should have happened but didn't.
After a while Flannery and Luba sat down on the forest floor to watch this performance. Now and then the man spoke to the dog in a relaxed companionable voice. It looked at him as if it understood every word.
At one point Flannery raised his left hand. The wooden plane instantly stopped and hung in the air fifteen feet up, next to a towering chestnut tree covered with flickering yellow-green leaves. A mile and a half away, Ettrich had started his car and was driving off. Flannery nodded and smiled for the first time, having waited for the sound of those tires crunching across the gravel of the parking lot. His hand dropped and the plane started flying again.
"Things look good, but we can't get excited yet. 'Thunder is not yet rain,'" John Flannery said out loud. He loved proverbs. He memorized whole books of them and always had one for any occasion. Suddenly another popped into his head. "Too large a morsel chokes the child." As he thought about it for a few moments, his face lit up in delight. He could use that. Damn right! He could use it this minute to make Vincent Ettrich's life a very, very uncomfortable place to be.
He raised his chin a bit toward where the plane was flying. It did a 180-degree turn toward him. As if waiting for instructions, it paused a second or two and then flew away. Out of the forest, away from the trees and Flannery and Luba the dog, the plane flew toward Ettrich and his dog and Isabelle Neukor and their child and the misery these people would soon know. Today was the first day of the end of their lives. Even John Flannery felt sort of sorry for these poor fuckers, if you can believe that.
"So how did Haden die?"
Sitting back in the chair, Flora Vaughn crossed her arms over her chest. "How come I don't hear a lot of regret in your question, Leni?"
Leni rolled her eyes and proceeded to answer for all of them. "Because Simon told the women he wanted to fuck that he was dying so they'd feel sorry for him and go to bed with him. I did, and so did you. I don't care if he's dead."
Flora nodded and smiled. "Don't you love the way Leni phrases things so diplomatically? She should be an ambassador to some dangerous country — she'd start World War Three in half an hour. 'Mr. President, your foreign policy sucks. It's obvious you're either completely incompetent, or you've got a small cock and are compensating."
"We're not talking about me. How did Simon die?"
Flora took a drink of water and then pointed at the glass. "In a car wash."
Her answer was so unexpected that spontaneously the three of them broke out laughing again.
"No, really — how?"
"That's the truth. Sabine Baar-Baarenfels told me. He died in a car wash in Los Angeles. He had a heart attack while his car was being washed." Some answers in life are so weird yet satisfying that on hearing them, all that the mind can do is sit back and burp.
Simon Haden had enthusiastically pursued Isabelle for years, trying every method he knew to get her into bed. Usually he was very good at seduction, a real pro. He used dying, he used love, he used sneaky in numerous, original ways. To his great dismay, none of them worked on her. When they were together, Isabelle was charming and funny and great company, but she always, always knew what Haden was trying to do. Smiling, she invariably stopped him miles from any bedroom door. All of this flashed through her mind now as she stared at Flora Vaughn and digested the fact that Simon was dead.
"What was he doing in Los Angeles?" Leni's question broke the ice that had formed over the moment.
"Who cares? But you know what really annoys me? What really bugs me? Now that that villain is dead, I keep thinking sweet things about him. Like the time he brought me lilies, or the time we stayed in bed all morning and ate chocolates. It's not right, damn it. Simon does not deserve sweet thoughts, whether he's dead or alive. The man was a selfish pig who just happened to be handsome enough to be irresistible. But once you'd fallen for the temptation, he treated you like a piece of old gum on the bottom of his shoe."
Leni closed her eyes and nodded in agreement. "I felt more like an empty stained pastry box after he left me. But I agree. Who said you can't speak ill of the dead?"
Isabelle was only half listening to what her friends were saying. She was feeling sick again and was waiting to see if her stomach was going to hold down the meal she had just eaten or throw it back up. That was one of the only things about pregnancy that bothered her: she would suddenly feel horribly ill, or diarrhea would abruptly come hurtling down her guts like an avalanche. When these things happened she would have to drop everything and bolt for the nearest toilet. It was embarrassing and sometimes frightening to feel that you were not always in control of your own body and its most basic functions.
After a few seconds of waiting and listening to her body, Isabelle knew this was going to get worse so she stood up quickly. Both friends looked at her.
"I'm going to be sick."
Instantly concerned, Flora half rose from her chair and pointed across the restaurant toward the toilets. The room was large and Isabelle had a long way to go.
"Do you want me to come with you?"
Isabelle shook her head and started away from the table. Walking fast, she put a hand over her mouth.
Flora slowly sat back down but kept watching her friend cross the room. "Do you think I should go anyway? Maybe she needs someone to hold her head."
Leni moved her cane a few inches to the right. "Forget it. You know how embarrassing that stuff is. Who wants someone watching while you puke? I still can't believe that Simon is dead."
Two good-looking women at a chic restaurant, talking about a lover they'd once shared. Both of them had stories about Simon Haden that the other hadn't heard. Now that he was dead, they could tell them.
Time passed while they spoke and laughed. Isabelle did not return to the table. Flora and I eni were both aware of this but it didn't concern them at first. Isabelle was vain — it was not uncommon for her to take a while.
Eventually too much time passed and Leni mentioned it. Flora got up immediately and went to the ladies' room. Pushing the door open, she fully expected to see Isabelle standing at one of the mirrors over the sinks, primping and looking at her reflection. She wasn't.
"Isabelle?" She looked at the two toilet stalls. Both doors were closed. A toilet flushed with a hard whoosh and Flora was momentarily relieved. She was sure her friend was in there. But she wasn't. Instead, a nondescript middle-aged woman opened the stall door and glared at her as if she were doing something fishy. Flora ignored this and went up to the other stall door. The suspicious woman went to the sink and washed her hands. She kept a careful eye on this tall redhead who was now knocking on the stall door with a flat palm.
"Excuse me — what are you doing?"
Flora looked at this woman for three seconds, and then turned back to the stall door. "Isabelle, are you in there?"
"Don't do that. What are you doing?"
Flora turned and looked witheringly at the woman. "Have you finished in here? Mind your own business and leave."
In true Viennese fashion, the woman huffed and puffed but then fled.
When she was gone, Flora knocked hard again on the stall door. This time the force of it pushed the door open. No one was inside.
Flora turned around and walked back into the restaurant. She could just make out across the dimly lit room that Leni was sitting at their table talking to someone. A man ... Vincent Ettrich.
As was the case whenever she saw Vincent, Flora froze for a beat. Before he met Isabelle, Vincent and Flora had had a wonderful short affair that left her dizzy with surprise, desire, and longing. It had not gone the way she planned. For two years after it ended (her doing), Flora could not stop wondering in her secret heart if this was the man she had been waiting for her whole life. When it was happening, both of them had treated their relationship as something delightful but insubstantial– a classic fling. For a few days here and there together now and then, two married people being naughty away from the world among crumpled bedsheets and hotel room service.
Excerpted from Glass Soup by Jonathan Carroll, Ellen Datlow. Copyright © 2005 Jonathan Carroll. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Prologue — Simon's House of Lipstick,
A Hot, Dark Yes,
The Moon in the Man,
Washing the Buffalo,
Feed Me to Your Sister,
Knee-Deep in Sunday Suits,
A Paper Trumpet,
The Dinosaur Prayer,
Zi Cong Baby Palace,