REVIEW: In Dreams Begin by Skyler White
WARNING: SPOILERS ARE HAPPENING BELOW. APOLOGIES IN ADVANCE
Dear Ms. White,
Jane counts And Falling, Fly among her favorite books for 2010 and it just missed making my list by an eyelash. The book was gorgeously written, thought provoking, sensuous and exciting. All of this, and it really engaged me by making me question what I was reading: is it simply (or not so simply) a story about demons, angels and vampires, or is there a hidden subtext and the entire thing takes place in a mental institution? In the end did I need a solid answer? No, because I love turning all of the conversations and events over in my mind and continually dissecting them. Brilliant.
Laura is a graphic artist in present-day Portland, and the story, when she’s in her own body and time, is told in first person. But trust me, she doesn’t spend much time in her own body. On the eve of her wedding as she is falling asleep, she’s transported to the body of Irish activist Maude Gonne by Ida Jameson. Ida is Maude’s best friend (if one can call a scheming, mean, miserable, grasping bitch a best friend), and is hopelessly in love with Maude. Ida is totally into the occult and is looking for acceptance through showing members of occult groups how proficient she is at doing occult-type stuff. Apparently W.B. Yeats (yes, as in The Second Coming) is an occultist as well, is close to Maude through the Irish freedom fighters and falls in love with Laura’s spirit inside of Maude’s body. Oh, and Laura falls in love with Yeats when she inhabits Maude’s body.
Don’t get me wrong. The prose is beautiful:
I’m not the sort to fall apart. I’m the girl who didn’t try suicide once in four years of art school. I never get carried away. But okay, maybe I have some things to work out. My arms splay and my thighs fall open on the blackening rug.
I have fallen. Asleep.
The rising dark hides the carpet’s color. The parrot voices grow farther and farther away, screaming with their green wings that it’s crazy to reason with your dreams. And I drift into a blackness spotted only by a swimming, dreaming crowd of stars.
However, I couldn’t follow the flow of the plot for shit.
The story goes back and forth between Laura and Ida, which was a problem for me. With Laura, I felt that she was so poorly drawn that I couldn’t get a handle on who she was or why this might be happening to her. While she inhabits Maude’s body, she doesn’t remember her reality: that she’s married, lives in Portland, has a job. When the story swings back to present-day Portland, her memories of Yeats, Ida and the goings on in Victorian England and Ireland are like fuzzy dreams, so for me her actual character was a whitewash.
With Ida, I have much stronger feelings. I think she’s repulsive, and I do believe I communicated that above. Her motivations are fairly obvious: she wants power and love. But I can’t dredge up an ounce of caring for her. At one point, she meets with a Demon and I actually think they’ve made it back to the Hell of the L'Otel Mathillide that was in And Falling, Fly, but I can’t be sure because frankly, with all of the time jumping and back and forth, I really had no idea what was going on or why. Ida does some really horrible things: sex with people she doesn’t want to have it with, stealing souls, destroying lives. Her despicable behavior was more exciting to read about than Laura’s boring reactions or Maude’s lame ones, but I just couldn’t muster more than a passing interest.
Finally, I’ll come to Yeats: why? Other than using his poetry and prose as part of a hook for the novel, he felt like character wallpaper. I will admit that I’m not really one for poetry, and I hate trying to find all the meanings unless I get them on the first go-round (which is why I love Robert Frost above all) so the chapters that began with Yeats’ work didn’t do much for me, and I couldn’t muster the energy to find the connection between the book and the poetry.
With In Dreams Begin, I just couldn’t figure out where the plot was going or why I should care about any of the characters. The book moved at a snail’s pace, and just as something seemed like it was about to happen, or there would be some illumination as to what was going on, the chapter stopped, Laura woke up, Ida cast a spell, or it was time to read some poetry. Ultimately I grew so frustrated that I had to stop reading. Before you judge, I read 275 pages…and I still can’t figure out what the fuck is going on here. I tried to convince myself to read the last 110 pages but I just couldn’t. DNF