Thursday, January 12, 2017

"Dream Children" (1976)

Story by Gail Godwin not available online.

The first thing I noticed about this story was the similarity of the title to the strange and moving essay by Charles Lamb, "Dream-Children; A Reverie"—the word "reverie" even shows up in this story, twice. It's an elliptical narrative, with many line breaks, italicized sentences, and different focuses. The main character is a woman who remains unnamed, married to a television producer and living a comfortable life in the country. Earlier in her life she lost a child during childbirth. A hysterectomy was required. With this past, she dreams at night, or experiences at night, encounters with her dead child, who is alive now in the world ("somewhere in Florida, probably on the west coast") and who is also dreaming or experiencing these encounters with her. It is likely a delusion, but the story seems equally open to the reality of a powerful spiritual or even supernatural experience. Well, maybe, but I read this openness as a kind of mushy attempt to have it both ways. The woman is undergoing a powerful experience, because she is likely deranged, yet it's all real too. That's a little too ambiguous for me. But perhaps because I like and feel so much affinity for the Lamb essay I was often willing to give this story a pass. I think Godwin must have been familiar with it. The desperation of the woman in this story for contact with the child is palpable, and moving. But then the story, which is not that long, shifts into scenes of her husband and his career, and it starts to feel like territory previously covered by Ann Beattie, or maybe John Cheever, and many others as well: sorting through the wreckage of the sexual revolution for pieces of the old ways that you liked, most notably, here, the sanctity of bearing and raising children. Thinking about it later, there isn't very much that I liked about this story. But Godwin is an unusually beguiling writer here, hopscotching a wide range of setting and incident, and implicitly promising it's all going to add up. It doesn't all add up, but she gets you all the way to the end, and that has to count for something. A bit of a mess, but an intriguing one.

American Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks

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