What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson

A Poor Novel But a Much Better Inspirational Allegory: The Good, The Bad, and the Baloney

Self Portrait 2010
Self Portrait 2010

This story attracts a huge number of 5-star reviews; and rightly so. There are two tribes of potential readers involved in the dance with this book though. One tribe are those who will love it. I understand the enthusiasm of that tribe. There are books of this type that I have enjoyed. The other tribe is the tribe that concerns me; the tribe that will buy it and be disappointed.

Although they are a much smaller tribe, it is for the potential disappointees that I write 🙂

Let’s review the positives first. It is a love story written to be a “beautiful” love story. It is a tragic love story. For the lovers are driven apart. Chris, the husband is involved in a terrible auto accident … and so “dies”, leaving his beloved wife Ann behind. However … “death” is not the end … and Chris, after a journey of leaving his attachment to life, wakes into consciousness in Summerland (possibly a.k.a. “heaven”).

Chris cannot bear the parting; is is not sweet sorrow at all. He worries about Ann. He checks in with the records office of Summerland to find out when Ann is due to arrive and so join him. Twenty-four years is the answer to how long he must wait. And then a second tragedy. An event happens and Ann is forbidden to enter Summerland. Instead she dwells in an abode far below the resonance of Summerland. It is by Law.

Chris rebels against this Law and so begins a perilous journey, through realms of hells to rescue Ann. The rescue seems to fail. Love seems unrequited. But wait, there is some hope … but wait … maybe … maybe … not/yes.

It is also an inspirational love story. For this is a love, between soulmates, that transcends even “death” itself. What Dreams May Come is a beautiful story about love and the nature of these phenomena called “life” and “death”. So far so very good. But what is not to like?

The depiction of the world of Summerland (possibly a.k.a. “heaven”) is so reassuringly reassuring; it is like a Tony suburb where everything is perfectly perfect, where even the dogs don’t bark and the white laundry wash always ends up shining white. It is not that the depiction is stupid. It is actually worse. It is plain silly. Read, say, the Bhagavad Gita, contemplate upon the true magnificence of this Universe, its infinity and utter, pitiless, vastness, all the measures of it that are truly beyond the comprehension of the kinds of minds we currently have, and compare to the banality of Summerland.

So … Chris is a neophyte in Summerland. He will need a mentor, surely. Sure enough … and so we meet Albert. Thus … we embark upon the mentor neophyte dialogue. Oh wow … here we are in surely magnificent realms and the dialogue has as much presence as a chat about the best recipe for apple pie. It is not that the dialogue is cheesey or schmaltzy. It really is not. It is just so … so … so … dull. This mentor/neophyte dialogue just seems so hard for most authors. Maybe it’s because most authors don’t have the … intuition … empathy … inspiration … to call down the abstract, numinous sense of this kind of parley, together with the words that can speak it in a story. And I suspect this is the key in this matter; many authors who want to be “inspirational” are really neophytes themselves on the path to enlightment … samadhi … Understanding.

As a novel What Dreams My Come is so poor – the dialogues are poor, the world depicted is so silly and so shallow and so sentimental. All these do work, to an extent as inspiration, but they most certainly do not as story, let alone literature.

If you think/feel that you are the kind of person for whom the second part of this review speaks to you more strongly than the first … then … you have been “caveat emptored”.


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