Sleeping in Flame by Jonathan Carroll

Rating: 4 of 5

A modern fairy tale mixed with the metaphysical set firmly in the real world of the 1980s.

Do you read mystery novels? Yes? It’s the same with them. A fool can read ten pages and then turn to the end to see if the butler did it. But why ruin the whole process? The fun is trying to figure out the mystery yourself. If you get it right at the end then you really feel good and not a cheat.

Don’t go in expecting The Land of Laughs. Lines between reality and fantasy are blurred in both stories, but Sleeping in Flame offers neither the whimsy nor the suspense found in The Land of Laughs.

Be prepared for some dated references and misogyny. Women are first introduced by their external appearance or behavior; men by their careers, accomplishments and social standing. For example, near the very end of the book, Walker is on a train in the first-class compartment by himself when “…a woman walked in. When I saw her I thought of a line my college roommate had once said when were gassing about women. ‘Sometimes you see one on the street who’s so beautiful you want to walk up to her, put your hand over her mouth, and just whisper ‘Don’t talk. Come with me.’ You take her immediately to bed, never letting her say a word. Because no matter what she says, it’s going to spoil that first beauty you saw in her. You know what I mean? Silent, she’s perfect.’ The woman across from me was that kind of perfect.”

I’m still confused as to what was so special about Maris York, the woman Walker falls in love with at first sight. Other than being a former supermodel turned artist with the ability to read tarot cards, who is first introduced needing rescued from an abusive ex-lover, she seems like a regular woman to me. Yet every man she meets falls in love with her. Is it because, for her art, she builds LEGO cities then sells them for outrageous amounts of money?

Besides the way women are portrayed, there’s an exchange between Walker and Elisabeth Benedikt about her son that seemed inaccurate to me. She asks Walker if he knows what being autistic is. He replies, “Schizophrenic?” To which Elisabeth responds, “More or less. Lillis lives in his own head.” Of course, I’m no expert on either, but I have a relative with schizophrenia and he’s very different from the autistic children and adults I’ve encountered.

Now let’s get to the good stuff: the reason I enjoyed Sleeping in Flame

The only thing we can really know is what we’re experiencing, or what we’ve already lived. Then we’ve got to study it like crazy till we understand.

It’s revealed early on that Walker is an orphan. He was raised by the wonderful Easterling family, but he could never get over the fact that he was found as an infant in a dumpster by a homeless man. Soon after meeting Maris, Walker starts having strange experiences like seeing an accident before it happens and the appearance of a legendary sea creature. He also has vivid dreams in which everything he sees and does appears to have happened before. In an attempt to make sense of all the weirdness – magic, according to Maris – Walker goes to a shaman who wants to teach him how to fly and, slowly, Walker begins to unravel the mystery of his life.

Recommended to those seeking modern fairy-tale retellings who don’t mind an ambiguous ending. For anyone who ever wondered what would’ve happened to the baby if the queen hadn’t correctly named Rumpelstiltskin.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

The big reveal (SPOILERS):

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