The Ghost in Love
A talking dog, a lesbian ghost, the angel of death, and a host of personified character traits are just a handful of the quirky characters in Jonathan Carroll’s surreal fantasy novel The Ghost in Love. This is Carroll’s sixteenth fantasy novel in a career that began with the publication of The Land of Laughs (2001). As in many of his other works, there is a connection to a fantasy world and to an exploration of the consequences of human actions.
The story starts with the ghost preparing a gourmet meal for the woman she loves. Looking on and conversing with the ghost while she cooks is the dog. In a flashback, readers find out that Ling, the first of Ben Gould’s personified emotions readers meet, appears when Ben, on the way home from the animal shelter where he has chosen a pet for his new girlfriend, slips on the ice and hits his head. At the moment when Ben should have died, Pilot, his new dog, sees a ghost appear across the street. Ling is that ghost. She has been told by the Angel of Death that there has been a computer glitch in heaven, and she has been assigned to watch over Ben since he did not die at his appointed time and heaven is not sure what will happen to him as a result. This begins the questioning of fate and of who is ultimately in control of human destiny: individual humans or a higher power. At the point when Ben chooses to survive, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will lead him to understand who he, German, and even Pilot really are.
Ling is the part of Ben that is a ghost. According to the novel, it is the ghost’s job to take care of unfinished business. The nature of Ben’s unfinished business becomes confused as the novel progresses. At the beginning of the novel, when German arrives to pick up Pilot for her weekend of custody, it would seem that Ben’s purpose is to understand why he has lost the love of his life. Though Ling is part of his unconscious, she does not really comprehend how he was stupid enough to have destroyed the relationship. German also deals with the issue, and throughout the novel all three mourn the loss of the relationship.
In trying to understand what has happened to set his life spinning out of control, Ben goes on a journey of self-discovery. This quest begins with his near death experience, and it continues as Ben realizes he is sharing the experiences of Danielle Voyles, a young woman who has also survived an accident that should have left her dead. An inability to understand why he is able to see what Danielle sees, to taste what she eats, and to read her thoughts scares Ben into bizarre behaviors that eventually drive German away. In trying to win German back, Ben decides to share with her what is happening to him. He takes her to Danielle’s apartment, where it is revealed that though Ben can see Danielle, she cannot see him. He is invisible to Danielle. Thinking that Ben and Danielle are putting on an act, German angrily flees the scene. As the story progresses, German and Danielle connect in a strange way, and Danielle becomes one of Ben’s guides on his journey. No quest is complete without a nemesis, and Ben’s foil is Stewart Parrish. Stewart first appears in a pizza parlor where Ben and German are having dinner. At the table next to the couple sit the angel of death and Ling the ghost in human form. Parrish wanders into the restaurant in the guise of a homeless bum. In a series of confusing events, Stewart eventually stabs the angel of death, almost killing him. Stewart does not appear again for several chapters. When he does reappear, it is at a point in Ben’s past where Ben and Ling have gone in search of security.
During this trip back in time, Ben realizes his childhood love, Gina Kyte, was a shrill, bossy little girl rather than the sweet child he remembered. Remembering the reality of that young friendship shows Ben that he has built his life around an illusion. This discovery spurs an aggressive mission to stop Ben from learning more about himself, and Stewart appears in Ben’s past to stop his evolution. As the novel moves back to the present, Ben learns more about himself and begins to evaluate his personality. By the end of the novel, Ben has discovered that though he is ultimately in control of his destiny and of his life, some aspects of his own personality do not want him to be the boss of his future.
In one of the final chapters, Ben, German, and Pilot struggle with his worst character traits come to life....
(The entire section is 1831 words.)