The Marriage of Sticks

Posted by : atcampbell | On : March 20, 2001

The Marriage of Sticks by Jonathan Carroll

This meeting had fourteen attendees. Eight had read the book, and the rest were there to socialize. Additionally, one person had e-mailed in comments. The subject of this discussion was Jonathan Carroll’s The Marriage of Sticks. Several people in the group were longtime fans of Carroll’s prior work (including The Land of Laughs and Outside the Dog Museum) and had been trying for years to get one of his books on our reading list. The mainstream packaging of his books, combined with their tendency to go out of print quickly, had thwarted those efforts until now. The Marriage of Sticks is an urban fantasy novel about Miranda Romanac, a young woman who owns a used bookstore in New York City. The book starts out reading like a mainstream novel, but gradually some weird stuff happens and Miranda discovers disturbing truths about herself.

Many of us liked Carroll’s evocative prose and the quirky, surreal world he depicted. We liked one of the supporting characters, an offbeat small-town sheriff. A couple of people in the group who’d read Carroll’s previous book (Kissing the Beehive) and next book (The Wooden Sea) said that this book provided some useful bridging material between the two. Unfortunately that’s about all the positive comments there were.

We generally disliked this book. We wanted more to happen. The plot is filled with cliches, with a high school reunion being one of the low points. The directionless story provides no emotional payoff at the end. Carroll did a poor job of presenting a female protagonist. Miranda started out seeming a little dull, and as we learned more about her she seemed even more boring. The men in the book all considered Miranda a “selfish bitch”, and we couldn’t see why. Her most selfish act was refusing to sleep with men she didn’t like. Throughout the meeting, several people commented that Sean Stewart (author of Mockingbird and Galveston) is much better at depicting women. Some people who’d liked Carroll’s earlier books were wondering if they’d been mistaken. One person said that she’d been tempted to throw the book across the room several times, and only held back so that the book would be in good condition to sell back to Crime & Space.

We concluded that The Marriage of Sticks is a poor entry-level book for a reader who wants to try Jonathan Carroll. It offers little for established Carroll fans and nothing for new readers.

— A. T. Campbell, III