Five Brief Thoughts on Steve Erickson’s “These Dreams of You”

Earlier this week, I finished reading These Dreams of You, the latest novel from Steve Erickson. I’ve long been a reader of his, and wanted to share some quick thoughts on the novel.

1. Unless my post-These Dreams of You research is totally off, I am now very curious to read the novels of Bernard Wolfe, who (I believe) shows up briefly in the novel in lightly fictionalized form.

2. This might well be Erickson’s most self-referential novel. Several reviews have pointed out the similarities between protagonist Zan Nordhoc and Erickson himself. There’s another wrinkle here, though, in that the novel that Nordhoc is writing has one scene that very strikingly recalls a moment from Erickson’s earlier Arc d’X — a scene that, in fact, features a character named Steve Erickson. So: Erickson writing Nordhoc writing Erickson? Though there’s one critical difference between the fates of Erickson’s fictional Erickson and Nordhoc’s writer protagonist. Given Erickson’s fondness for loops that don’t loop, this seems entirely fitting.

3. Arc d’X makes for an interesting point of reference as well, as (like this one), it’s a winding, often haunting meditation on race and America. (For those who haven’t read it, Sally Hemings is one of its main characters.)

4. This is a messy book; it’s arguably Erickson’s most realistic work, but there are still little moments that defy explanation, juxtapositions that haunt. Erickson is able to keep one of the novel’s big ideas — which, as it relates to the origin of one character, I’m not saying much about — impressively mysterious, even as it might look less impressive if properly spelled out. It doesn’t hurt that the theme of economic anxiety that runs throughout the novel hits on a visceral level.

5. Erickson’s previous novel Zeroville took as its backdrop American cinema of the 1970s; here — though it’s less pronounced at first — he’s eyeing the music of roughly the same period as one of his muses. In this Lit Reactor interview, Erickson comments that:

About a year ago a well known novelist, one of his generation’s best and universally considered successful, openly confided to me that he’s been losing his publisher money for years and is well aware it can’t go on. As in the film business, the indie publishers increasingly are taking creative control, and on top of that, the digital age has opened all the asylum doors and out have streamed the lunatics.

With these two novels, then, he’s written something of an elegy for the artwork that such systems were capable of producing — work that still commands the power to beguile.

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