I read this maybe a month ago, and was in the midst of a reading malaise that suppressed not only my interest in what I was reading, but made reviewing almost impossible. I just couldn’t transfer my thoughts into a coherent description of the book. I don’t know. I think I’m still in a reviewing funk, but I’m trying to get them posted before I get too far behind.
What Dreams May Come is an epistolary paean to one man’s love for his wife; a wife left shattered by his untimely death. Written as manuscript transcribed through a medium and given to the narrator’s brother, this novel tells the story of Chris’s experiences after death. Swipe for major spoilers: the story can be neatly divided into three parts: life, death, and rebirth. The first third of the novel is an exploration of the afterlife, and it shows how Chris learns about his new life. The middle third consists largely of his efforts to find his wife and rescue her from the depths of hell following her suicide. The final third shows him choosing to follow his now reincarnated wife back to earth, and explains how they’re soulmates destined to chase one another through history. Trigger Warning for those who are impacted by depictions of suicide.
I knew this book from the 1998 film starring Robin Williams, which my 17 year old self appreciated without loving. I have a suspicion that 36 year old me wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much, and would be incredibly saddened by some of the major plot points given the tragic suicide of movie’s star. But I found the book to be quite heartfelt and beautiful, without edging too closely into the territory of sentimentality or saccharinity. The story is clean, and nothing is wasted or superfluous. Matheson was a disciplined writer. In the hands of a less capable person, I think this very easily could’ve been over-wrought.
The only qualm I had with this book, really, was its desire to present death, and its manifestations, as “factual”. Matheson was raised as a believer in Christian Science, and as an adult became fascinated by New Age spirituality, parapsychology, and the supernatural. Which is fine. Whatever blows your hair back, you know? But trying to present New Age beliefs as rigorously tested science is….well, bonkers. Sorry. Though it is a fairly small part of the book, I just don’t buy that approach. I can suspend disbelief pretty well, I don’t need to be told that everything in this book has a firm basis in reality. If I believe in these things, fine. I should accept them as a matter of course. If I don’t believe them, then it’s just going to take me out of the narrative.
Or it’s because I read this in the midst of a malaise, and couldn’t help but be cantankerous. Either way, huzzah for the modern retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice; boo for the pseudoscience.