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Beyond the Wall of Sleep:
A Collection of Prose and Poetry 1988-1997

R. Andrew Heidel
MORTCO, 56 pages

Beyond the Wall of Sleep: A Collection of Prose and Poetry 1988-1997
R. Andrew Heidel
R. Andrew Heidel has been a busy fellow. He's worked in Wall Street banking, driven a Dalmatian-spotted Yugo for a cleaning company in Seattle, been a dancer on stage, a DJ on the radio, an artist in a gallery, a 'zine editor, a milliner, a wire sculptor, a puppeteer, and the rearer of 2 fine cats (Jesus and Sally Brown). Currently, he is a publicist for Avon Books and lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York.

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A review by Chris Donner

Beyond the Wall of Sleep is a short collection of prose and poetry that makes for an interesting if enigmatic mixture. The stories are vastly different from one another in setting and character. "Dead Drunk" starts the collection off with elements of dark fantasy, as a man sits at a bar drinking with Death, while the later "Interview with God" has a much lighter and more humorous tone to it. As mixed as the situations and characters are, however, the links between the stories soon become clear.

The stories that make up Beyond the Wall of Sleep are indeed short and to the point, and they are also quite addictive, so that I found myself reading the entire collection the first time I picked up the 60-plus page manuscript. There is something tantalizing about the writing itself, its honest portrayal of what soon becomes a common theme: searching.

All of Heidel's characters seem to be searching for something, and it is this search that creates the interest in the best of the short stories. As a reader, I was almost indifferent to the few times that a search seemed to be completed, when the character found his/her answer. Instead, I found myself enjoying the prose as it recreated the mixed hope and despair of people dwelling in the land of uncertainty.

A perfect example of this can be seen in the story "The God Makers." In this insightful piece, a fisherman named Tralgar goes from being the envy of his village to being destroyed, all because he isn't sure why he catches more fish than anyone else. His life is solid, his fortune good, his wife loving -- yet he cannot answer when the others ask him why he catches so much more than they do. In the end, he stands alone in the face of this question, and he does not have an answer.

This sense of uncertainty and doubt often leaves Heidel's characters alone in the world, despite the others who may surround them. The process of searching, when it isn't fatal, seems to drive others away. I am reminded of the "Twilight Zone" episode where a man found a watch and discovered that he could stop time whenever he stopped the watch. One day he stopped the watch and then accidentally broke it. He spent the rest of his life alone, surrounded by people who could not move or speak, who could give no sign that they even knew he was there.

Heidel's prose creates this same feeling in a series of varied and creative situations. The writing is quirky and humorous throughout, even when dealing with potentially dark or macabre subject matter. Also, Heidel manipulates such elements as narrative voice and perspective to keep the reader unsettled and somewhat less than comfortable -- much like the main characters themselves.

The second half of Beyond the Wall of Sleep consists of some collected poems. The subject matter here is similar to that of the short stories, except the tone changes significantly. The poems in general don't seem to have the finesse of the prose; they feel heavier and less engaging. Instead of the crisp description and metaphor of the stories, the poems rely on introspective language that often seems to border on cliché.

Whereas the narrators in the stories -- whether first or third person -- have a kind of existential resignation about them, the voice in the poems is generally either lamenting or trying to instruct or exhort. This gives the poems a somewhat didactic feel that seems to oppress rather than engage the reader. It surprises me that there is such a distinct change of tone between these two sections, and perhaps this has more to do with the expectations of what poetry "should do" than with Heidel's writing style. Regardless, without the vivid imagery of the stories, the poems fall a bit short of their intentions.

Overall, Beyond the Wall of Sleep is an interesting and creative piece of work, though somewhat unreliable at points. The angst and existentialism of the short stories work nicely with the various fantastic settings that Heidel creates, and his sense of character is often right on the money. However, the poetry is less energetic and seems to steal some of the power of the work as a whole.

Copyright © 1998 by Chris Donner

Chris Donner is a freelance writer and magazine editor living in Manhattan and working in Connecticut. He will read almost anything once, as it makes the train ride go faster. He is currently writing a screenplay, a novel, several short stories, a collection of poems, and a letter to his mother. The letter will probably be done first.

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