readingtrance

book reviews by Althea

Dreams Underfoot – Charles de Lint ***

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A collection of short stories that actually works very well as a ‘novel.’ They all share a setting and theme – that of troubled, often creative young people encountering myth and magic in the imaginary city of Newford. Having never been to either city, for some reason Newford conjures up a sort of cross between the Seattle and Vancouver of my mind.

Some of these stories are very, very good. I’d say some of them are some of de Lint’s best work.

However, around the second half of the book, it began to bother me in the same precise way that so much of de Lint’s work ALWAYS bothers me. And this time, I pinned it down:

de Lint reminds me, exactly, of any one of a number of usually well-meaning counselors, teachers and other ‘adult’ figures, who, when I was a teenager, were CONVINCED that due to my ‘alternative’ look, creative bent, and independent, rebellious attitude, that I must be suffering from low self-esteem, and hiding some sort of dreadful trauma that had ‘made me that way.’

There’s even a story here where a girl tells a counselor a story of trauma and then says, “Oh, I’m lying, I just said that because I knew it was what you wanted to hear.” I said “YES! FINALLY! He’s admitting that sometimes counselors TRY to elicit this stuff from you whether it happened or not!” But then the twist ending to the story is that it really DID all happen to her. Ugh.

Believe it or not, some people are just creative and adopt an unusual look because it fits their personal aesthetic. Some people are eccentric without being mentally ill. Some people leave home early and go their own way because they are naturally more independent than others.

de Lint’s writing makes me feel conflicted, because while people with the kind of attitude I’ve described are DEEPLY ANNOYING, his stories also make a reader (if the reader is me) feel guilty for being annoyed by them, because of course you have to have sympathy and empathy for any character who’s been through the traumas his characters have, and appreciate people that are trying to ‘help.’ And bad things DO happen to lots of young people; and some of them are impelled out of the ‘mainstream’ due to those things.

So – I feel it’s a good and helpful thing to encourage empathy and understanding of people who’ve been through a rough time. But on the other hand, I DON’T think it’s helpful at all to encourage the false stereotype that people that are non-mainstream are always depressed, abuse survivors, or ‘damaged goods’ in some way.

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