Like the subtlest of dreams, FP Dorchak’s Sleepwalkers opens with both feet planted in the real world and gradually evolves into a full-blown mind-bending novel of ideas over the course of the next 300 or so pages.
The novel follows the journey of protagonist Daniel Grant, a middle manager downsized into a life of uncertainty and self-doubt. Despite his best efforts as remaining positive, Daniel feels himself slipping under until a series of mysterious dreams awaken in him the possibility that the life he’s been living is but one iteration of the possibilities open to him. Haunted by a dream-version of himself, Daniel embarks on a journey through multiple realities in a quest for nothing short of the meaning of life.
Published in 2001, Sleepwalkers is akin Jamil Nasir’s 2008 novel Houses of Time, which simultaneously explores the mysteries of quantum physics and lucid dreaming. Yet where Nasir’s protagonist—named, coincidentally* or not, David Grant—is embroiled in an inter-dimensional conspiracy with fiendish overtones, Dorchak’s narrative consciously (and conscientiously) eschews the melodrama of paranoiac intrigue in favor of a more positive, constructive vision of dreams and their potential for changing the world. As a character in Sleepwalkers known only as Magic Man notes, “There ain’t no death, and there ain’t no Dream Team Special Forces. There are agencies out there who would like to think there are… but in reality, they’re missing the bigger picture.”
Indeed, seeing the “bigger picture” is what Sleepwalkers is ultimately all about. Even before his mystical journey, Daniel’s downsizing forces him to ask questions about the social norms that regulate our world. Why, for example, do we spend so much of our lives chasing after what we can’t have, what won’t last, and what we probably don’t really want anyway? And by questioning these social norms, Daniel learns what we all can learn when we look up from the mind-numbing details of our quotidian lives—that the world is full of wonder and possibility—not to mention mystery. To quote Magic Man once again, “Never close yourself off to learnin’, no matter how many times you think you’ve mastered somethin. You can always learn something new. Leave yourself open to life’s possibilities.”
To an extent, Sleepwalkers also offers a meditation on storytelling and its potential for changing the world. Confronted with multiple paths that his life might take, Daniel must learn to “play” in each of them, shaping each through the power of his will even as he follows them to their logical conclusions. As Magic Man exhorts Daniel to learn how to play, how to shape the world positively through the power of imagination, it’s easy to hear the ghost of William Shakespeare whispering that all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players, easier still to detect echoes of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series with its emphasis on dreams, death, and desire. We are all dreamers, Sleepwalkers insists at every turn, and we all have the power to change the world for the better.
* And what, exactly, is a coincidence? As one of Dorchak’s characters remarks, “Things happen for a reason, and all I’m trying to do is get you to be more aware. So someone labels an occurrence a coincidence. My question is why is it a coincidence? Why did it happen? Don’t just label it and brush it aside.”