The Man Of My Dreams

by Diane Schoemperlen
243 pages,
ISBN: 0771599730

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Souvenirs Of The Future
by Dayv James-French

DIANE SCHOEMPERLEN employs an astonishing range of narrative techniques in the 14 stories of her fourth book. The complications of romance and reality are deftly played our in startlingly original constructions, from subtle variations on traditional realism to a check-list that duplicates the Cosmopolitan-simple language of a self help questionnaire. Her control appears effortless. Her energy carries the reader into each new territory; theres no homesickness for the familiar. And the stories are shot through with high-spirited burnout. Shrewd observations pinpoint the moments of joy (or, perhaps, blamelessness) in lives where small disappointments seem inevitable. The title story, in 36 parts, shimmers with ironies in the interpretation of dreams. In stories, the narrator says, women dream of "daring escapes," they "wield axes, swords, scythes, and the occasional chainsaw which lops off those unfaithful legs like sugar cane." Men dream about cars and sports "and king their mistresses and/or their mothers Out for chateaubriand and escargots." The narrators own wildly original dreams -- "Ben becomes a kitten even as I hold him in my arms which are turning into saxophones" -- are played against the seemingly imaginative explications from a dictionary of "meanings" that finally reveal themselves as dogmatic to the point of uselessness. What possible point can there be to dreaming of a symbol of happy marriage? By contrast, life` dailiness is rich with the recognition of evident truth; domestic details can transform themselves into a unique mythology. In keeping with the narrators learned balance between abstraction and concreteness, the story includes a recipe for an easy one-dish dinner for two (which might not be appropriate for readers on low-salt, low-fat diets). "Stranger than Fiction" and "Tickets to Spain" take different slants on the nature of writing fiction. In the first, a writer is overwhelmed by the overflow of coincidence after she names a character Sheila." Layers of invention parallel the writer`s life. I am no longer surprised to go out one night for New York Steak with baked potato (medium- rare, sour cream and bacon kits) and the next day my characters are enjoying the very same meal (well-done, mind you, hold the bacon bits, yes, I`ll have the cheesecake please). The story she`s working on ultimately takes over and reality is quite properly perceived as ephemeral. The second involves a couple who, before taking a trip to Spain, invite friends over to see the souvenirs they`ve collected in advance. The man is a playwright, endlessly rewriting the story of their lives for the stage. Sometimes DAVID and DENISE are martied and sometimes they`re not. It doesn`t seem to make much difference in the long run. They have taken turns at being unfaithful and at being fooled. Schoemperlen is on target with both portrayals of fictive realities. Truth is stranger than fiction, its just organized in an unsatisfying way. She illuminates the creative process in flashes like sheet lightning, which occurs as an image in several of the stories. "The Look of the Lightning" connects the off-centred perceptions of a hangover sufferer with the diffuse terrors of urban life. The narrator`s fragments of recollected experience may be analogous to a mutilated body, the severed legs discovered in a green garbage bag. The precision of the language is remarkable: By the time I`ve located a clean pair of pantyhose without a run and Andrew has spilled his milk twice, we are both bitchy in the heat and I am yelling indiscriminately about the toys scattered everywhere and I keep tripping over them, about the cracker crumbs all over the floor and they are sticking to the bottoms of my bare feet, about his fear of flying insects which I think is foolish because he screams his head off every time we go out to work in the garden and I`m afraid of bumblebees but I haven`t let it ruin my life and now there`s no more milk. "His People" has the acuity of an Arbus photograph. Each of the story`s images reveals the whole tale. Nick moves into his grandmother`s house, next door to Holly, on his release from prison. The only thing he lacks, with his born-again religion, hyperactive son, and insufferable sense of victimization, is a sign around his neck saying "Run Away." He even says, "I know all about love, just don`t want no part of it no more. It aches my mind." But Holly, a reader of poetry, invents an illusion of romance, although she never allows herself to be entirely convinced by it. Everything here is predictable by design; the details are foreordained but the story never sinks into fatalism. There`s a sharp intelligence in all of the stories, and a voice to be taken seriously, Schoemperlen`s irreverence and low-key irony elevate her narrations into striking documents of longing, of acquiescence, and even of redemption. The Man of My Dreams is what fiction is meant to be. Every word is authentic.

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