Earl brings dreams, history, and beliefs together across time and space in this debut short story collection, a selection of literary fantasy tales.
To some extent, the stories in this volume all concern the worlds beyond the characters’ own, particularly the afterlife. The title work follows Tim Stubbs, a successful, happily married insurance executive. After a promotion and a lavish party, the last thing on the up-and-comer’s mind should be a recurring dream. But when a claim comes across his desk for a man in a coma—Marvin Dispatcher, the same man he’s seen in that dream—Tim can’t ignore it. He quickly becomes obsessed, drawing connections between his life and Marvin’s, eventually forcing himself into unconsciousness with scotch and Valium to return to the dream and the Land of REM. He encounters wonders and heroes there, as well as a mission that will change his life forever. Other stories in the collection, such as “Recall” and “Death Takes a Holiday,” also meditate on death and the afterlife, while some, like the nonfiction piece “The Tooth Fairy, God, and Everything Else,” address questions of faith, belief, and devotion. “The Land of REM” could certainly be expanded into a novel in its own right, but the contrast provided by the other stories also serves to heighten this central narrative. The tales simultaneously feel ethereal, comic, and personal. There are problems with awkward sentences and typographical foibles here and there (for example, “This was like a finally test of manhood”). These sorts of issues don’t make much of an impact in the dreamlike sections, which deftly capture the stream-of-consciousness feeling of actual dreams and create a strong sense of place and tone. But the problems stand out in the more mundane content. There are many complex ideas at play throughout this collection. More time and words spent on this thin volume would go a long way toward exploring these notions fully and eliminating the troublesome elements.
A set of bedtime stories for adults that, much like their childhood counterparts, should leave the reader asking for more.