Saturday, September 10, 2011

On "Dream of the Wolf" by Scott Bradfield ****

I fell in love with Scott Bradfield's novel The History of Luminous Motion when I was around age 20. It was a book on a sales rack with a cool cover, and inside the first paragraphs were, well, luminous. The power of the writing simply continued straight through.

Fast forward ten years, when I finally reread that wonderful book. I was no longer as impressed or into it. Certain books speak to us more at certain times of our lives than others. Some say different things. Some continue to amaze me (On the Road, Great Gatsby), which is probably a reason they're considered classics. Others, for whatever reason, fade with age, fade because the thing inside that titillated no longer carries with it the same power, be it a particular life imagined or a beautiful mess of words or a technique previously unfamiliar.

Anyway, here it is twenty years later, and I'm finally getting around to reading Bradfield's book a stories, a book I'd contemplated reading many times back when I was twenty and in love with Luminous Motion. What can I say? It's Scott Bradfield--he's a craftsman of the sentence. This book is full of beautiful lines. As for the stories themselves, they're cool; they're interesting; and sometimes they don't seem wholly there, as if Bradfield decided simply to stop writing at a certain page.

Each of the stories revolves in some way around dreams, which may be part of the reason the stories end as they do, abruptly, at seemingly nonsensical moments, the way our own dreams often do. The title story, a fantastically interesting tale, revolves around a man who dreams of being a wolf and whose dreamlife begins to take on a reality more intense than his mundane waking life. But that's just the beginning. It gets weird (or perhaps, I should say weirder).

"The Darling" is another disturbing and interesting piece, the tale of a serial husband killer. "Unmistakably the Finest" is a finely wrought piece, one of the few that ends with a kind of emotional heartstopper, about a girl whose father leaves the family to take up with another woman, about the job that girl takes that summer to support herself and her mom, and about her mom's new dating life and her mom's drinking. "Ghost Guessed" deals with a man's double--someone akin to the double in Fight Club, bold and careless where the man is not. "Greetings from Earth" recounts a woman's outer-body experiences. "The Other Man" focuses on similar themes to these two--a man's obsession with his wife's imaginary lover. In "Dazzle" we follow a dog's life; in "White Lamp" an old woman's and her philandering son. "The Wind Box" recounts a man's experiences with a Scientology-like society. Each of these stories has a gimmick of sorts that makes them interesting, and each is spellbinding in its own way, even when they don't feel as if they completely add up.

The last story, "The Secret Life of Houses," is possibly the best in the collection. In it, a young girl takes care of her ailing mom in the hospital and returns to her house each night to act the part of a grown woman. We're warned early in the story that Aunt Fergie will show up when the mom is dying and will steal everything that the mom has worked to give to her daughter as an inheritance, and so when Fergie does show up, midway through the story, a kind of dreaded horror takes over more harrowing than if we were reading about, well, werewolves or something of that nature. The story compels one's reading, even as one doesn't want to see the seemingly inevitable conclusion.

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