America, the Remix: These Dreams of You By Steve Erickson Book Review

Roughly 70 pages into the novel These Dreams of You by Steve Erickson I was ready to boldly proclaim it the best book of 2012. It had much of what I so frequently look for in a novel–believable characters, social commentary, a suspenseful plot, and touches of avant-gard aesthetics that don’t bog down the whole. By the end of the book, I wasn’t so sure it was still the best of the year–due in part to occasional middling portions, but also due to the upcoming releases by Martin Amis, Michael Chabon, and Zadie Smith–I was however sure it should be considered one of the most important novels of the budding century.

Why such accolades? There’s one thing that These Dreams of You has going for it that so few novels now can claim for themselves: it’s set in the present. Okay, to be fair, it starts with the inauguration of Barack Obama and doesn’t quite reach the present day, but it’s more keyed in to the current state of affairs in America than so much of what’s out there.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you read a fiction book set around 2012? So much of popular fiction now is historical, or at least set a few decades in the past (what’s the cutoff for the term ‘historical?’). Even Harry Potter is set in a world before cellphones. Something about the present is daunting to writers. The past has its charm because it’s happened; history offers a sense of orderliness to the writer–the story has already been told.

Steve Erickson however isn’t an author who looks for easy solutions. What’s more, he’s an artist that not only accepts chaos, but relishes in it. These Dreams of You is loosely structured throughout; to give you an idea, the novel starts with the protagonist musing over the election results, then fast-forwards to the peak of the housing crisis, only to zoom back in time for a lengthy and affectionate retelling of the rise and fall of Bobby Kennedy.

These Dreams of You centers around the Nordhoc family–although you can say the novel goes through a process of decentering too. Alexander Nordhoc, a former novelist turned radio DJ and guest lecturer, is a father of two children, a son named Parker, and an adopted African girl nicknamed Sheba. His wife, an artist, decides all of a sudden it’s necessary to discover the truth behind Sheba’s parentage, a quest that takes the Nordhocs from America to London, Berlin, and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

Considering how this is written by Steve Erickson, a master of twisty and labyrinthine poststructural novels, you can expect some liberties taken with the notion of a traditional narrative. Fans of Thomas Pynchon are bound to find similarities in terms of freewheeling plotting, and readers of Don Delillo are sure to enjoy Erickson’s wonderfully concise philosophizing. If those names don’t ring a bell, then simply read These Dreams of You for the provocative and well-crafted prose.

Examples:

“For months the new president is the only thing that makes Zan happy, the only thing that interrupts the billowing gloom of his life. At the moment it doesn’t matter if this is a delusion.”

“Am I a ghost? she wonders in her descent, following–into its labyrinth of tunnels and bridges, lined by high walls covered with moss–all the narrow, winding stone steps of her new abysmal city. Am I in an abyss of time, or one of space?”

“Driving into this light he would have the feeling that he seems to have more and more as he gets older–of the past seeping into the present and marked by the quality of a particular light when he turns a bend of the road.”

More than anything else, These Dreams of You is one thing: necessary reading.

–For a bit of entirely unnecessary reading, check out my novels A Rapturous Occasion and The Madness of Art: Short Stories, both on Amazon.

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