And Then I Read: THE LAND OF LAUGHS by Jonathan Carroll

Thomas Abbey is a teacher of literature in a private school, but is not happy there, and feels the urge to write a great book. He’s the son of a famous actor, and that makes it hard to find friends who are not simply interested in his father. He has a private collecting and reading passion: the books of deceased chidrens’ book author Marshall France. In a bookstore one day he encounters another avid fan of Marshall, Saxony Gardner, and they spar over a rare Marshall book they both want to own and read, but after a while their common interest draws them together in a relationship. With Saxony’s encouragement, Thomas decides to research and write a biography of Marshall, whose life is largely a mystery itself. He visits Marshall’s editor and with some information gained there, decides he and Saxony will visit the small town of Galen, Missouri where Marshall lived and wrote his books, and where his daughter still lives.

Thomas and Saxony expect to find Galen and Marshall’s daughter Anna France difficult to know, but when they arrive they’re surprised to be welcomed with open arms by Anna and the entire town. Somehow, perhaps through Marshall’s editor, everyone knows Thomas is there to write the first France biography, and they seem enthusiastic about it. Thomas and Saxony are set up in an apartment and gradually learn more about the man they revere, his work, and the inspirations for it, people who live in and around Galen. Little by little the tone turns darker as strange things begin to happen to people in the town, and somehow they blame Thomas. He also begins a relationship with Anna that frays the one with Saxony. Things really start to come unravelled when one of the town’s dogs starts to talk to Thomas.

I loved this book until…it finally turned into a horror novel in the last quarter. Up until then I was able to completely empathize with Thomas and his obsession for childrens’ fantasy, something I share, and I ignored the dark clouds forming as long as possible. The final part of the story is well told, but I liked the rest better. The ending is clever and startling, and this book kept surprising and entertaining me throughout.

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