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The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
Gordon Dahlquist
Bantam, 760 pages

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
Gordon Dahlquist
Gordon Dahlquist is a native of the Pacific Northwest, where he worked for several years writing and directing plays. Since 1988 he has lived in New York. He has been a member of New Dramatists, is a New York Theatre Workshop Usual Suspect, and a founding member of the CiNE. His works include Messalina (Evidence Room, Los Angeles: SPF, New York), text for Babylon Is Everywhere: A Court Masque (CiNE, Schaeberle Theatre; Theatre Magazine), Delirium Palace (Evidence Room, Los Angeles; published in Breaking Ground), The Secret Machine (Twilight Theatre Company at Solo Rep), Vortex du Plaisir (Ice Factory '99 Festival at the Ohio Theatre, WKCR'S Manhattan Theatre of the Air), Island of Dogs (4th Street Theatre), Severity's Mistress (Soho Rep Theatre, New York University; winner of Primary stages' Bug &Bub award), Mission Byzantium! (American Globe Theatre, NYTW's Just Add Water Festival), and Reitcence (Horace Mann Theatre).

He has written and directed several experimental films, that have been selected for the San Francisco International Film Festival, the Seattle International Film Festival, and the Northwest Film and Video Film Festival. He is a graduate of Reed College and Columbia University's School of the Arts. He has received two Garland Playwriting Awards for Messalina and Delirium Palace.

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is his first novel.

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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In an interview on the Powells.com website about his first novel, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, Gordon Dahlquist (his real name, as far as I can tell, and you couldn't make up a better one for the style he writes in) says he's "interested in what stories we choose to tell and in the ways we choose to tell them. I am especially interested in genre stories, because these are ones we tell to ourselves again and again, without necessarily asking ourselves why."

Which perhaps explains a lot about this book. It is about genre -- multiple genres actually, encompassing science fiction (primarily of the H.G. Wells variety), mystery, Victorian romance with a dash of Gothic horror, all with a bit of tongue planted firmly in cheek -- a timeworn phrase perhaps, but one that is nonetheless particularly apt. And it is a story we're all familiar with, which, despite knowing that our heroes will outwit their nemesis and the various traps planted to ensnare them, is quite enjoyable.

As long as we don't ask ourselves why.

This yarn concerns three otherwise disparate personalities brought together by circumstances to combat a common enemy bent on world destruction, though the identification of that enemy and its precise objectives and methodologies to achieve them constitutes the mystery for the intrepid threesome to unravel. If this sounds familiar, well, it's supposed to be. The plot unfolds via alternating chapters told in the third person describing evolving events from each character's point of view, usually thereby resolving the cliffhanger presented to the protagonist of the previous chapter.

Our heroic ménage-a-tois comprise Miss Temple, a plucky upper-class young lady recently spurned by her fiancé, Cardinal Chang, a paid assassin with poor eyesight and a taste for poetry, and Dr. Abelard Svenson, the chain-smoking personal physician and ostensible babysitter for the impulsive and immature Prince of Malckenberg who is abroad in England for the purpose of consummating an arranged marriage.

The most intriguing of these three is Miss Temple. While the overall narrative style is mock Victorian prose, her chapters in particular echo what Jane Austen might have written if she'd been alive to read Freud:

Miss Temple was twenty-five, old to be unmarried, but as she had spend some time disappointing available suitors on her island before being sent across the sea to sophisticated society, this was not necessarily held against her. She was as wealthy as plantations could make her, and sharp-witted enough to know that it was natural for people to take care more for her money than for her person, and she did not take this point of view of materialist interest to heart. Indeed, she took very little to heart at all.
(p. 2)
That's the Austen. The Freud part underpins Miss Temple's (whose name is surely intended as symbolic of a repository of virgin wisdom) venture into the dark secret society of Roger Bascombe, her estranged betrothed. The novel begins with Miss Temple covertly following Roger and a group of men smoking cigars and women wearing masks onto a train that plunges into the dark night to an undetermined destination. Anyone who has taken an Intro to Psychology course can figure out the symbolism of that. Dahlquist raises the ante by depicting the masked women as sexually adventuresome; one woman's offhand mention of allowing men to unbutton her dress is particularly charged in the context of Victorian sensibilities. In an attempt to infiltrate the goings-on of these people, Miss Temple herself takes on the risqué clothing and shocking attitudes, suggesting she may be confronting her own repressed sexuality.

Except that, she really doesn't. Oh, there are some scenes of public sexuality, though nothing explicit let alone pornographic, but they don't seem to be there for any reason than perhaps a good natured ironic poke at the shrouded sexual suggestiveness typical of Gothic novels. But if the author ever started Miss Temple on a journey of self-discovery into subconscious desire, it soon gets sidetracked into moving her quickly to the next cliffhanger. Her feelings towards Roger are left curiously flat, devoid even of anger let alone any lingering longing. The ending does suggest that her burgeoning attraction to one of her compatriots is acknowledged, even as she physically separates herself from him in rejecting his help. (Though the book stands on its own, a sequel is in the works, so perhaps it was important for further dramatic purposes to keep the relationship unconsummated and uncertain.)

Even the central conceit of a glass book that contains a person's private memories that others ("dream eaters") become ensnared seems less a comment about the dangers of the subconscious than, say, listening too much to your iPod. It may not even be that; it may just be a kind of "cool thing" on which to hang the plot.

While the genre that Dahlquist mimics here made pains to carefully hint at psychological conditions that couldn't be plainly spoken in "polite society," his sights are really set lower: this is the perils of Pauline to get off the track in time to avoid getting killed and fight another day and rescue ordinary folks from nefarious evil, not to project eruptions from the id that can never be fully satisfied and that ultimately lead to ruin.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. This is quite an enjoyable book, even if it is more reminiscent of the British 60s television series The Avengers than Wuthering Heights. Show of hands now, how many of you prefer John Steed and Emma Peel to Catherine and Heathcliff, anyway?

It's not giving away anything to say that our tenacious trio ultimately triumphs over the forces of darkness. Because, it's the kind of book where that's a given. The fun is finding out how. Without necessarily having to worry about why.

Copyright © 2007 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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