Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bathing the Lion by Jonathan Carroll--This New Book Now Available on Bookstands!

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

"Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange."  --[Cobb from the movie, Inception.] [2]

     A skilled thief by the name of Dom Cobb accepts a job to, not steal, but, plant an idea into the subconscious mind of a man--a feat he calls, "Inception." The impossible-sounding concept can only be accomplished when the target is asleep, deep within the dream state. To help Dom's team know whether or not they are within the dream state, they each carry a totem to keep them in touch with their reality.

     The "dream team," (Sorry about the silly pun, but I just couldn't resist!) enter the dream state and begin their work to plant the idea. As the team enters the dream landscape, immediately surreal things begin to happen. A train plows through the middle of a traffic-congested street, the hotel spins on its axis as gravity shifts, where the floor becomes ceiling--and then back, again, and even snipers shoot at the team from a nearby rooftop. [3]

     In the movie, Inception, the dreamer did not know someone had entered his dream, that his dream was being shaped by outside forces. Master writer, Jonathan Carroll, has taken advantage of the surreal landscape of the dream world, just as writers did for Inception, and utilized it as an important aspect in his book, soon-to-be-released, Bathing the Lion. No, the "dream team" from Inception does not make an appearance in Carroll's new book, nor do we have trains in the middle of the street, or snipers. But Carroll does get creative in dream imagery. So, let's get right to Carroll's book by first looking at the synopsis.

     The book opens benignly enough, albeit with a little anxiety-producing discussion between a husband (Dean) and wife (Vanessa) about separating from each other. Nothing is resolved and each goes off to spend a day away from each other, "to think things over." Their interactions seem to be normal enough, something that would, and does, happen in the real world. But what happens next leaves them and three others in shock.

     In the New England town in which they reside, some of the five know each other, some do not. Upon waking, each recognizes that what they thought was real was, instead, a dream; and then, each in turn, discover that five of them had the exact same dream--what does it mean? The dream seemed so real, and their reality is feeling very surreal. Soon, very soon, each member of the group will realize that, at one time, they lived the life of a "mechanic," not the car-fixing variety, but a kind of repairman who fixes things in the universe and helps to keep it all in order.

     These dreamers, these, "mechanics," used to clean up the messes of sentient beings, and also one other being--fear producing and inexorable, "Chaos." Chaos, at times, comes to town, touching down like a runaway locomotive tornado; unstoppable, Chaos ruthlessly wreaks havoc in its wake.

     Cleaning up and fixing the messes and problems of sentients and Chaos is very demanding. Living such a "grueling and exhausting" life comes at a price; mechanics wear out quickly and are forced into retirement after a period of time. A retirement that can find them in any location in the "cosmos" living a quiet life as a "civilian." As they are placed in retirement, their memories are erased and they are given new identities--ones that will fit in with the location in which they are placed. The retired "mechanics" live quietly where they are retired to, until the natural end of their lifespan.

     Yet, now, the unthinkable has happened: every single retired mechanic is being brought back to active duty. Chaos is at work, here, and has a new plan for humanity...it's not looking good, folks.

     Let's start with the cover, itself. I really love it. The imagery drew me in and had me considering the layering of images, juxtaposed one atop the other, creating an overall image of a hand--in shades of blues, with black surrounding the hand. This is highly reminiscent of a digital photograph created in Photoshop (by using "layers."). Having the layers superimposed the one upon the other results in the creation of a surreal image created in a realistic way. The photographer in me really liked this! So, even the cover art of the book reflects the inner workings of the story. Beautiful cover, and the hand as an image for the cover is so apropos--once you read the story, you'll understand. 

     The genre: Since this book is an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) from NetGAlley, I obtained the genre information from the "Title Details" page about the book, Bathing the Lion. The Title Details page indicates the genre as "Literature/Fiction (Adult)." [9] Goodreads readers list the genre as Fantasy/Science Fiction and Literature. [10] 

     Amazon readers describe the book as, not fitting into any particular genre, resists "pigeon- holing," as literature genre, and even fantasy/sci-fi/mythic fiction. [11] And then, Kirkus Reviews classifies it as speculative fiction. [12] It seems that everyone has an opinion on what genre Bathing the Lion fits into, but little consensus seems to be reached. 

     So, how do you classify any book into a specific genre? First, know that genre is a category "marked by a distinctive style, form, or content." [14] Some readers classify Bathing the Lion, as Science Fiction (or Sci-Fi). This genre usually has at its nucleus, advanced technology (usually advanced beyond what is current reality) that is treated in a way consistent with, say, militaristic principles (militaristic sci-fi). [For a review of that genre, see my blog post of Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos, by clicking the link, here and, All You Need is Kill (The Edge of Tomorrow) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, by clicking the link, here.] It is understandable that some readers would include Bathing the Lion in this genre because the "mechanics," travel the cosmos and although we don't actually see advanced technology, it can be implied. 

     If we look, instead, at Fantasy, we must begin by assuming that the world contains magic of some sort. In addition, Fantasy novels can be set on other worlds and may contain mythical creatures or even mystic personages. Many of these stories contain a hero's journey. One book I've reviewed that is an epic fantasy is, The High Druid's Blade, by Terry Brooks; see that review by clicking the link, here; also see, Words of Radiance, The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson by clicking the link, here. The focus is often on world-building, plot and setting (Note: this is often true for the Sci-fi or Fantasy/Sci-fi genres, as well.).

My favorite book  (OK, well, really,
series) in this crossover genre is
Anne McCaffery's, The Dragon-
riders of Pern. 
     In addition, you might see a bit of a crossover genre here, called Fantasy/Sci-Fi. One series that I really loved reading that is considered in this genre is Anne McCaffery's The Dragonriders of Pern books. Again, I can see why some would include Bathing the Lion in Fantasy or Fantasy/Sci-Fi because we are dealing with "mechanics" that work in the cosmos and can wield unlimited power to heal, bring back the dead, and fix anything that needs fixing that has become a problem created by sentient beings or "Chaos."

     Finally, looking at the last proposed category, the genre of "Literature/Fiction (Adult)," we first recognize that Bathing the Lion, is indeed fiction and is written for the adult reading audience. But does it fit into the "Literature" category? Well, let's see.

Kirkus Reviews, above, indicated that the book fit within the 
Speculative Fiction genre. Here in this diagram you can see
just how closely aligned Literary Fiction and Speculative Fic-
tion can be. While Literary Fiction, generally, utilizes
character-rich attributes, it does not exclude having a plot.
Nor does Speculative Fiction exclude character development.
We are speaking in generalities, here. HERE, we can see
just where the publishers have placed Bathing the Lion--
in Literary Fiction (Adult) genre. It really could be a tough
call for someone if they didn't know how it was placed by
the book's publishers. [19]
     Some "literary" novels (1) do not have an obvious plot, though by the time we work our way through Jonathan Carroll's book, I think we can safely say, his book has a plot. Other notable attributes of "literary" novels include (2) sometimes being published in smaller numbers; (3) some- times trying to "break the mold" to be their own literary form (or even deny having a genre); (4) sometimes "liter- ary" novels are considered to be both literary as well as mainstream novels; (5) some so-called literary novels are dubbed "literary" in attempt to add class to the novel or to a publishing house. Finally, and I think, most importantly, is the attribute that the novel tends to highlight the quality of the prose over the narrative arc, itself (which takes us back to tangentially related #1, just above.). [18]

     I went through all of these genres for you, today, basically to show you why I agree with the publishers about how they categorized this book. Of course, I really didn't start from scratch to figure it out for myself; I had a huge head start with the information I received from NetGally about the book (and they obtained the info. from the publishers). 

    Lastly, Jonathan Carroll's Bathing the Lion, is NOT magic realism (genre)--I will not cover that genre, here, as I have reviewed it, in depth, in my post about Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin. To see my review of that book and magic realism, click this link, here. Carroll's emotive and charac- ter rich book has its charac- ters considering their place in, not the world, but the cosmos. With shifting lives, perspec- tives, and experiences, it is no wonder that the beauty of the "fruit," is captured with the photographer's lens (in the book) and "seen" in his digital photographs. I know, you're probably thinking, "What the heck is she talking about?" Well, if you read the book, my cryptic sentence will be made clear to you. 

     The book is surreal in many ways. After all, we start out with a dream that seems too real, and real life that is bizarre. Sometimes the plot, dialog, and even action, seem chaotic--I think that this simply mirrors the story, itself. And, yes, I really liked the quality of Carroll's prose. I found it haunting, beautiful, and memorable. By the way, you will find the end of the book resolves your major concerns, the same way that Dom had his problems resolved in the movie, Inception. And, like the movie, Inception, Carroll ends his story, similarly. You see, Carroll, in a sense, ends the story in a somewhat ambiguous (not in a bad way) manner. Oh, yeah. Just between you and me...I loved the dogs, "D Train," and "Kos." 

     The author's publisher's tell us the genre is Literature/Fiction (Adult). This book's target audience is the adult reader. Since one suicide takes place in the book, young and sensitive readers should consider before reading the novel. 

     For all the reasons I have listed, above, I rate this book 4.0 stars out of 5. Well-done Jonathan Carroll. I highly recommend this book to all mature adults. I believe this book is an important work and Jonathan Carroll should rightly be proud of his hard work and wonderful accomplishments in this literary work.

     Thank you for joining me this week as we looked at a very interesting Adult Literature/Fiction book, Bathing the Lion. I deeply appreciate your time and attention to reading this post and considering the book I have reviewed, today. Please join me, again, next week when I will be reviewing another book for you, one quite different than the one I reviewed, today. This week, please be kind to yourself and remember to say something kind to someone else, and make their day. God bless you.

Until next time...
This flower is a double white Rose of Sharon. [21]
...many happy pages of reading.



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[2] "Inception Quotes (2010)." imdb.com. Retrieved 09-29-14.
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[8] "Friday Drinking Game #49--Men In Black." bestforfilm.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[9] "Title Details Page: Bathing the Lion." netgalley.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[10] "Bathing the Lion-genre." goodreads.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[11] "Bathing the Lion--Reviews." amazon.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[12] "Bathing the Lion--Book Review." kirkusreviews.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[13] "Command of the Genre." sanddollarpress.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[14] "The Free Dictionary." [by Farlex] thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
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[16] "Fantasy." indulgy.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[17] "Science Fiction Fantasy genre conroe." [by Teri Lesesne, Professor] slideshare.net. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[18] "How to Figure Out Your Book's Genre." rockyourwriting.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[19] "The Spectrums in Science Fiction/Fantasy." amazingstoriesmag.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[20] "Dark Souls II Review." giantbomb.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[21] "Pictures From My Garden.sparkpeople.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[*] "NetGalley Disclaimer--Home." netgalley.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.