fp dorchak

Do the Dead Dream?

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 10.37.25 AMFall is upon us and Halloween is nigh, so if you’re looking for a good scare (or several dozen good scares), then look no further than FP Dorchak’s anthology of short horror fiction Do the Dead Dream? Collected here are forty-five short stories spanning the entirety of Dorchak’s writing career, many of which originally appeared in such esteemed publications as Black Sheep, Apollo’s Lyre, and The Waking Muse. And in each story, Dorchak’s skills as a storyteller with a penchant for considering not just alternate realities but alternate ways of thinking about reality are on full display. In other words, Do the Dead Dream? isn’t just scary… It’s also deep.

Truth be told, things get deep pretty quickly (and literally) with a piece titled “The Wreck,” in which a diver is inexplicably and undeniably drawn to mysterious shipwreck at the bottom of the sea. In this story, gets at the heart of human desire — particularly that brand of desire that is rife with conflict: The diver in question knows that his oxygen supply is limited, yet he keeps pushing, keeps going deeper and deeper in search of the truth behind the mysterious wreck. What mysterious force keeps pushing him? Or, more accurately, what mysterious force keeps drawing him in? And, more to the point, the story all but demands, what makes all of us keep seeking truths even when doing so might work against our better interests?

The theme of searching for truth continues in the following story, “The Walkers,” which finds the member of a mysterious tribe of — well — walkers sent to the rear flank of a long march to check on rumors of death and destruction. Once again, the truth (as Fox Mulder used to say) is out there, but it certainly isn’t pleasant. Also bound up in this particular tale is some subtle commentary on class and knowledge. To wit: Do the upper echelons and decision makers of society know something the rest of us don’t? And would society fall apart if suddenly we all knew it?

Not surprisingly, the search for truth raises more questions than it answers throughout Do the Dead Dream, but for my money, that’s always a sign of good art. Indeed, it’s also a hallmark of all of Dorchak’s work, particularly his novels like Sleepwalkers and Ero. Additionally, this is a substantial volume — forty-five stories spanning nearly 500 pages — so the creepiness and intrigue will certainly carry you well past Halloween and into the new year — and probably beyond!

 

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One More Day

In her third novel, One More Day, Kelly Simmons deftly demonstrates that she is an author who is not afraid to take risks when it comes to the art of storytelling. The novel centers on a young mother whose child is snatched from his car seat while she’s tending to a particularly onerous parking meter. Roughly a year later, however, the child reappears for (as the title suggests) a single day before disappearing again. His reappearance and subsequent disappearance opens old wounds and forces the young mother to reflect on her marriage, her culpability in the disappearance of her child, and to come to grips with distant memories that continue to haunt her. In this respect, One More Day is similar to the author’s previous novels, Standing Still and The Bird House, both of which take memory and the tendency of the past to haunt the present as major themes. With One More Day, however, Simmons pushes into new territory, experimenting with unreliable narration and a healthy dose of magic realism. One also catches a very slight hint of Christian allegory a la William P. Young’s The Shack, particularly given the protagonist’s occasional reflections on faith in general and her relationship to her church in particular. Overall, One More Day is not only a mystery but an existential reflection on the frequently fraught relationships between the past and the present, not to mention the living and the dead.

PS: Shout out to FP Dorchak: This one is right up your alley!

Sleepwalkers

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.”