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The Panic Hand, Jonathan Carroll, HarperCollins, 1995, ISBN 0-00-224540-X, f14.99

I hate to harp on it, but Jonathan Carroll has problems ending stories. I would like to say I don’t care because even a partial story by Carroll is enough, but the truth is that I’m always left with a craving that you get when you read a story and you’re wrapped up into it and you require completion. Supposedly American audiences require a “happy” completion, but I hope I’m beyond that. “Uh-oh City” has all the things that are quintessential Carroll: characters who are intrinsically interesting, a doozy of a “weirdness,” and the, unfortunately, open ending. The premise is that there are 36 people who are God, but not individually, but collectively. One-thirty-sixth of God is still pretty much amazing, though, and when God(sub36) tells you that they are dying and you are next in line to become part of the 36thhood, what can you say? Complications ensue, as they usually do, and things are never as they seem in a Carroll story, but after the final twisty turn we reach the last sentence and we are still on the precipice of understanding, and need a final push to put us over…and it never comes.

The other stories here are more of the same wild, wonderful fare. The Panic Hand was originally published in Germany with a slightly different table of contents. I own a copy of that book, but being unable to read German was slightly hampered in trying to understand the stories. Carroll’s better at the long form–his favorite literary device is the untrustworthy narrator, and it takes at least 50 pages to set up a story with one of those that won’t annoy the reader. Even still, his tendency for the twist and his incredible way of creating characters that you would like to know in a few sentences is enjoyable even in the short form.

[Finished 2 July 1995]


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