Dreams, Reviews

Those Other Places

20 Jan , 2018  

We all have those other places. The places we go, when we drift out of consciousness.

I had an odd dream, last night.

We’d been traveling to a place that doesn’t exist, on a large ship. In one scene, there was a fascinating spider. It was a spider, but it was also a man – a human man – and when it was in human form, I liked him. He was funny, friendly, smart. He was calm and kind. I don’t remember whether he was a relative or just a family friend, but it seemed merely interesting, not shocking or fantastic, that he spent some of his time in spider form, living on driftwood in a glass aquarium. At one point, I smiled at the spider, and he excitedly hopped up the driftwood to the edge of the aquarium, and I plucked him from the branch and put him on my forearm. It was better that, than risk having him leap onto my head.  I was terrified; it was all I could do to remember that he was also a person – a kind, funny, friendly, smart person that I’d sat, talking to, just a short time before. As a spider, he had the personality of an excitable puppy dog. But I was still terrified, and after a few minutes, had to pluck him – gently – off my arm and put him back onto the branch. I didn’t want to hurt the spider or its feelings, but I had to fight the urge to throw it, violently, into the aquarium. It was still a spider.

Later, I was walking on the sidewalk of this strange place, and this is when I figured out that the place doesn’t exist. The “sidewalks” were more like shallow canals: flat, ankle deep, concrete troughs of clean, clear water that people walked in. I came to an intersection of the troughs, and it was filled with children playing with…snakes. The trough was full of snakes. The snakes, like the spider, appeared to be benign and almost friendly – they didn’t seem to mind being played with, and wound their way around the ankles of passersby as if they were cats, not snakes. I was utterly repulsed. I could not take another step forward. I looked into the snakes’ faces, noting that one was a harmless, hog-nosed rat snake. All of them were harmless varieties of garter snakes, king snakes, small pythons, rat snakes, corn snakes – as far as I could tell. My eyes told me that they were harmless, but my brain kept on warning me that there might be a mamba in the middle. It only takes one. I wanted to get out of the troughs, but we weren’t supposed to walk on the grass.

I turned back and retraced my steps, and sought refuge on the ship. At least, I think that it was a ship. It seemed to morph from train station to airport to ship to floating island and that did not seem at all strange or alarming in the dream. It was mildly confusing; I’m not really sure where we were going or why, but it didn’t seem to matter. Most of the family was there, and it was a pleasant trip, despite the spiders and snakes.

I’m pretty sure this dream was an over-tired brain’s mash-up of the odd novel I finished as I drifted off to sleep, called An Other Place, by Darren Dash; a few too many slices of pizza with anchovies, washed down by my semi-annual Coca-Cola and a few Lindor truffles; and my ridiculous phobias – no doubt my fear of spiders and venomous snakes has everything to do with my fear of needles, and I had my pre-op blood testing yesterday afternoon.

I have a confession to make: I don’t like doing book reviews. First, they’re too much like self-inflicted “book reports,” and who among us enjoyed those assignments? I wonder if the reluctant readers thought they were the only ones who dreaded them. Did they assume that the avid readers among us loved them for the easy A’s? I loved reading; I voraciously devoured books. I loved to write, to play with words. But I balked at literary analysis and criticism; I never enjoyed ferreting out, consciously, the symbolism employed by the author. I cringed at analyzing the subconscious message of the author. It seemed especially unfair to do it to the dead authors, who could not defend themselves to say, “Good God, man, it was just a little too much crushed red pepper on my pizza!” or, “Hey, I thought he was cute. I imagined more. That doesn’t mean that I, personally, wanted more. I just wanted to explore the idea of more. In my head, not my bed.”

I don’t want spiders that turn into men, or men who turn into spiders. If such a world existed, I might seek out the nearest cliff and strive to end it all. The writer in me now imagines a long free-fall full of regrets, and a bouncy carpet of spiders catching me at the bottom, only to bite me till I stop trying to kill them all as they spin me into a cocoon for later snack-time. All the while, they whisper, telling me no, the cocoon is merely a straight-jacket, and I am being restrained for my own well-being. Cared for by nurse-spiders while I slowly go mad.

I am not sure, in all good conscience, that I can recommend An Other Place. If you ignore my advice, don’t read yourself to sleep with it.

It’s an odd novel; the first thing I noticed is that the book is poorly designed. The cover design is unappealing. If I had judged the book by its cover (and, be honest, who doesn’t?) I would never have been curious enough to pluck it from a shelf. I’d bought it based on hyperbolic recommendations from the professional reviewers:

“This is, by far, the best book of 2016, possibly the best book of this decade… the bastard love child of Kafka and Rod Serling, throwing in a dash of Ray Bradbury for good measure. 5/5 — brilliant. Just brilliant.” Kelly Smith Reviews.

The “best book of this decade”? No. Just…no. This, alone, has me questioning the credibility of Kelly Smith Reviews. I had high hopes for it, being “the bastard love child of Kafka and Rod Serling,” with “a dash of Ray Bradbury for good measure.” I see some similarities, but it’s a stretch. Kafka, maybe. I could see this as an episode of The Twilight Zone, if it were highly edited and made suitable for general audiences. Ray Bradbury generally wrote more likeable characters.

“Dash’s surreal tale has its share of unsettling moments. There’s also an abundance of intriguing peculiarities. An often baffling tale, but its protagonist’s wry commentary is undeniably entertaining.” Kirkus.

I suspect there was more to that, but I won’t quibble; peculiar, entertaining, full of wry commentary are all fair statements. I didn’t find it all that baffling, and I feel as if that statement, alone, should worry me.

While the lines of type are nicely spaced—almost too nicely spaced—the type is far too faint to be read easily.

I can’t say that I liked or related to any of the characters, and that is usually one of the things that absolutely must happen for me to read a book cover to cover. I didn’t really like much about it, but the writing drew me in, anyway. The premise is one that fascinated me in the same way Stephen King’s It fascinated me; the idea of it, at least, is more commonplace than some of us imagine. Or talk about, with one another. Oh, not Dash’s own little creation myth – everything about that was odd, but let’s not psychoanalyze the author. My own karma can’t afford it, I think. No, the crossing strands of other places, and the occasional wondering of which is real and which is other, or whether both or all are equally, simultaneously, real.

Before the book arrived, I’d toyed with the idea of writing my own version of it. Last night’s dream presents itself, as fodder. Because I, too, have other places. But mine, and Darren Dash’s, are nothing at all alike. I like mine better. Dash’s other places are bleak, monochromatic things, terrifyingly dreary, dull places, compared to mine. It’s the perfect set-up, though, for his creation myth; by the time we get there, we can simultaneously gag, roll our eyes, and laugh – the most disgusting and unrelateable thing in the book might be the most amusing, even to me, by the end.

I imagine we all prefer our own, but what is reading, if not playing tourist in another human’s “other places”? It wasn’t the worst book of 2017, I’m sure.

Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; and A New Leaf for Lyle. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young at heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

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11 Responses

  1. Anklebuster says:

    I barely remember my dreams well enough to recount them, let alone figure out why they assault my eyelids.

    Speaking of assaulting the eyelids, I could barely read the red-on-black decorative font over on KSR. But, yeah, the book cover was a bit off-putting. Anagrammatically, the protagonist asserts the veracity of the best book claim: Newman Riplan = Napalm Winner.

    Back to your dream, though. Didn’t you find it strange that the safest place would be on the grass? OR were these city snakes, used to the concrete jungle of your canals? 🙂

    Cheers,

    Mitch

    • First, I’m still cracking up over your anagram. Second…Damn. Your question about the grass vs. city snakes is worth pondering. I hadn’t considered that. There were an awful lot of them, but they seemed harmless, fangless. Clumped and tangled, they were literally more likely to trip me than bite me. But I sensed deception in that, because there’s always a venomous one SOMEWHERE. Could certainly be a metaphor, too.

      • Anklebuster says:

        I have to give a hat tip to wordsmith.org for the anagram. I got a chuckle at of the results.

        The incongruity of the snakes being on the road struck me sharply, as I read. I wonder what an amateur psychologist would have to say about the whole journey. Especially your insistence on the existence of that mamba. 🙂

        My search for “to troop someone” came up empty. Whuzzit mean?

        Cheers,

        Mitch

      • I fixed that before you caught it. 😝

  2. Mike Goad says:

    Interesting dreams. Surreal.

    I had one of those last night. Problem is, I can’t remember much of it. There was a girl in it whose name I remembered. She said we had been a couple in high school. It felt right in the dream, but wasn’t. And that’s about all I remember.

    I don’t like doing book reviews, either. I started doing one recently on an older book that I read on my kindle by Elizabeth Smart about her abduction. It evolved into an article that include a second book, written by her uncle, Tom Smart. But, with only a couple of paragraphs, I ran into a block. It sat on my computer for over two month, unfinished.

    I started working on it again just a few days ago. It’s evolved into an article on missing people. I never knew that almost 2,000 people are reported missing every day in the US. Most of those are resolved, one way or another, but the National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC’s) Missing Person File database has around 90,000 active missing person records. The article, as it stands now, includes references and resources — I’m up to 19 end notes — and, so far, summaries of 11 missing people who were found alive. Surprisingly, 3 of those were men found as a result of the reopening of the serial killer John Wayne Gacy case to try to determine who eight unidentified victims were.

    I set it aside a couple of days ago, intentionally, to work on some other stuff. I’ll come back to it with fresh eyes. It’s up to over 2100 words.

    Sweet dreams. 😉

    • Hi, Mike! I thought I’d replied to this – I’m not sure I should trust my phone, some days.

      It’d be interesting if the missing people turned up in a commune founded by serial killers – and were, in fact, the serial killers, themselves. Trying to reform, with varying degrees of success, until found and dragged (not all that happily) back to their loving families…whom they’d been trying hard not to kill when they “disappeared.”

      Apparently, not all the drugs have left the building.

      Here’s hoping the actual cases of missing persons found alive have happier endings.

      Sounds to me like you should either get into investigative journalism or writing fiction. Writing book reviews is about as stultifying for you as for me. I’m glad to hear that you picked up the notes and let them lead you where they will, instead. I look forward to reading whatever you end up with, should you decide to share.

      Dreams are terribly funny things, sometimes. They do sound right in our heads while we’re dreaming them (except when they don’t – I discovered “lucid dreaming” quite by accident, and am not a huge fan; I think of it as “breaking the fourth wall” and usually only do it when the dream scares me too much or the inner editor comes awake and yells “bullshit!” and it’s really just an interruption in an otherwise entertaining romp). Remember the show “Hogan’s Heroes”? I once had a nightmare that I was in the French Resistance or something, and had “killed LeBeau.” Not killed him, exactly, but made some horrible error that resulted in him getting his head blown off. I think I’d ducked, is all. Anyway, I moped for a week over “killing LeBeau.” And no amount of seeing him alive and well on TV helped at all. Good God, he’s STILL alive, by the way: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Clary (He’s 91. Why did I have such a thing for really old actors when I was a kid? George Burns, Louis Jourdan, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Alec Guiness, Christopher Plummer… I tease my husband, who is just four years my senior, that I was practically robbing the cradle when I married him!)

      • Mike Goad says:

        I don’t feel that I’m cut out for fiction — I’ve never really had a knack for telling a tale — and I’m not interested in (the work of) investigative journalism.

        I’m more into researching a topic I’m interested in and writing a paper, complete with end-notes and posting it on one of my blogs for no other reason that personal gratification.

        One example is a piece I wrote on John Beauchamp Jones, an antebellum author, contemporary of Edgar Allen Poe and newspaper owner/editor who became a prolific diarist while a clerk in the Confederated States of America war office. I had searched extensively online over several years for an image of him with no success. In 2016, I tried, once more, to find an image of Jones. The search turned into a minor online research project with 65 end notes, published at American Civil War Chronicles (my site) as “John Beauchamp Jones.” During the research, I found three images of Jones, one in a group painting and two photographs.

        The article is at: http://www.cw-chronicles.com/blog/john-beauchamp-jones/

      • I’m so glad you included the link, here, Mike! I would have asked for it if you didn’t – because it sounds fascinating! I suspect you can tell a tale, just FINE. You just prefer non-fiction. That’s a different matter. Doesn’t mean you’re not a good storyteller, you just prefer the real and the well-researched, like a good historian.

  3. Anklebuster says:

    Heh-heh. Now, I get it. By the way, I had a flashback to a movie I had gone to see when I was a child. I have no idea what the name of this movie was, but it was an adventure. At some point, the villain showed the hero a pit of snakes.

    Of course, later in the movie, the hero was thrown into the pit. It was a tangled mess, much like you described, and I never, ever, forgot the visual…

    If that movie ever comes on TCM, can you imagine the power sense of déjà vu that would jolt me? {shivers}.

    Cheers,

    Mitch

  4. Sumit says:

    Great job. Keep sharing more inspiring post with us.

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