Jonathan Carroll, White Apples (Tor, 2002)

Jonathan Carroll is a genre all by himself. He writes magical realist tales that defy categorization. He is published by Tor Books, one of the finest publishers of Science Fiction and Fantasy, but is shelved in Literature. He has fans as diverse as Pat Conroy, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Lethem, and Stephen King. He now has fourteen books under his belt, but it feels like he’s only warming up. Carroll is a little piece of magic, telling us stories that were somehow always there, buried in our group subconscious. He’s the big brother at the campfire, scaring us and exciting us at the same time.

White Apples is about Vincent Ettrich. A brilliant advertising man and oft-times philanderer, Ettrich has recently returned to the land of the living with no knowledge or memory of his death. He meets a fascinating woman named Coco Hallis who is not at all what she seems. She reveals the truth to Vincent in one flash, then disappears, leaving him to fend for himself. This is all in the first chapter.

White Apples is also about Isabelle Neukor, a gorgeous and rich Viennese woman, "three quarters perfection, one quarter broken glass." She is the love of Vincent’s life, though her intense fear of his profound love for her has left deep scars on Vincent’s heart. So afraid of his devotion –- a devotion so strong that he left his wife and children for her –- she flees his life. Then Vincent dies and she discovers she’s pregnant with his child. A child that is somehow destined to shape reality once he reaches maturity. But to do this, he must know what Vincent knows: what lies beyond death. So Isabelle goes into Purgatory, and brings him back.

White Apples is also about Vincent and Isabelle’s unborn son, Anjo. Gifted with extraordinary powers, he reaches from within Isabelle’s womb to pull his parents back together. But there are those who do not want Anjo to be born, dark forces as ancient as Time itself. Chaos and Death are after Anjo, as well as a sinister ambiguous figure known only as the King of the Park, and they’ll go through his parents to get to him.

This, Carroll’s fourteenth novel, is a masterpiece of fabulist fiction. He continues to amaze and illuminate with each successive book, and there’s no sign that he is soon to stop. His novels are the finest examples of the illustration of the human condition: that we can fail, and sometimes cheat on our spouses, but that we can also love someone so much that we are willing to go into Death itself to bring them out. White Apples at its heart is a love story, with characters so engaging that we, the readers, wish we could be them, fighting their battles, taking their risks, experiencing their love. If you’re like me and came to Jonathan Carroll late in the game, you’ll read his fiction, then immediately comb the online auction and used book sites looking for his other novels. He wields the English language with the grace of a master craftsman. He’ll show you the world in a whole new way, and you’ll sing his praises until your throat goes sore.

[Jason Erik Lundberg]

Find out more about White Apples at the White Apples Web site. This review has been excerpted there, along with other reviews.