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Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

The Author as Dreamer, Perhaps in a Dark Wood

A Kind of Dream: Stories - Kelly Cherry

I met Kelly Cherry last summer at a conference in Vienna and fell a little in love with her when she read from one of the stories in this collection.  Smart, funny, insightful, generous, compassionate -- these are words one could use to describe both the author and the work.


Here's what the back of the book says:


Life is A Kind of Dream. So is the art we make in response to life. In A Kind of Dream, five generations of an artistic family explore the ups and downs of life, discovering that for an artist even failure is success, because the work matters more than the self.

            The selves in this book include Nina, a writer, and her husband, Palmer, a historian, who, having settled into marriage and family life, are now faced with the bittersweetness of late life; BB and Roy, who make a movie in Mongolia; Tavy, Nina’s adopted daughter, a painter in her twenties who meets her birth mother for the first time; and Tavy’s young daughter, Callie, a budding violinist. Other vivid characters confront the awful fact of violence in America; try to cope with political ineptitude; and one devises his own code of sexual morality. Perhaps the most important character is Nina's dog, a salt-and-pepper cairn terrier of uncommon wisdom.

            Fame, death, rash self-destruction, laughter, the excitement of making good art, love, marriage, being a mother, being a father, the appreciation of beauty, and always life—life itself, life in all its shapes and guises—it’s all here.

            A Kind of Dream is the culminating book in a trilogy Kelly Cherry began with My Life and Dr. Joyce Brothers and The Society of Friends. Each book stands alone, but together they take us on a Dantean journey from midlife to Paradise. Cherry’s prose is hallmarked by lyric grace, sly wit, the energy of her intelligence, and profound compassion for and understanding of her characters. Set in Madison, Wisconsin, A Kind of Dream reveals a surprisingly wide view of the world and the authority of someone who has mastered her art. It is a book to experience and to reflect upon.


The opening story, called "Prologue: On Familiar Terms" acts as an introduction to the characters we will meet in these interconnected stories.  Read as a slice-of-life narrative exploring relationships, creativity, love and loss, the book is beautifully written and often terribly witty.  However, there came a point when I found myself asking what the title hinted at; what was Cherry pointing me toward?  And then, as I neared the end -- as does Nina, one of the characters -- I began to discern that these stories might just be Nina's 'dream'.  


Nina is a writer and as I read it became clear (at least to me) that she was Cherry's alter-ego.  In one of the stories Nina quotes a writer named Philip Routh (not Roth, it's made clear), who says, “The main purpose of one’s double was to show you yourself or what you’re about to become.” The idea that Cherry/Nina are one -- as much as any writer can merge with his/her creations -- added depth and complexity.


Read simply as a linked collection of short stories the book is satisfying, well-written and imaginatively structured; that the title leads the reader to a more 'meta' conclusion,  transformed it into something much more subtle and profound.  And if I was charmed and moved that a small dog leading Nina out of the final dark would might be named 'Virgil', I'm not at all ashamed to admit it.  Well done.  Recommended.