David Lynch has been quoted as saying: “I don’t think that people accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense. I think it makes people terribly uncomfortable. It seems like religion and myth were invented against that, trying to make sense out of it.”
I tend to think Lynch is right but would add a caveat for horror fans. We tend to live in that space of being uncomfortable, deliberately reflecting on life’s dark absurdities. I’d even take it a step further that writers within horror create their own myths to process our shared painful existence.
There’s a misconception outside of the genre fandom, tossed my way on multiple occasions: “Real life is scary enough. Why would you ever want to write/read/watch something so terrible?” My standard reply is that it is exactly because life is terrifying and dealing with a distorted reflection of real horrors helps alleviate the anxiety caused by a world of random tragedies.
If your horror-loving heart can relate to that, well, do I have the perfect book recommendation for you!
On the surface, Captain Clive’s Dreamworld by Jon Bassoff is about Deputy Sam Hardy, who gets transferred to a new town after questions are raised about his involvement in the death of a young prostitute. Hardy’s new deputy position is in a city called Angels and Hope, isolated and on the outskirts of a desert. As soon as Hardy arrives in the tight-knit community, several people, including the mayor, tell him he’ll likely only be busting people for littering, as no other crimes occur in their idyllic city.
But there’s something off about Angels and Hope, from the eerie Stepford Wives vibe of the citizens, to the way the town’s founder, Captain Clive, is plastered on every logo. More than that, contradictions seem to be everywhere, like the mayor offering moonshine in his proudly ‘dry’ city. Then there’s the amusement park Captain Clive’s Dreamworld – “where dreams really do come true” – which is fully staffed but empty of customers. As Hardy begins to investigate a missing teen, more questions arise about the amusement park, why no one in town ever seems to sleep, and the closer he gets to confronting his own unsettling past.
I won’t spoil the rest of the plot, but I will say be prepared to be extremely uncomfortable as the story exposes the truth on how the amusement park actually makes money and delves into the willful ignorance of the characters. Behind the utopia of Angels and Hope is a sickening scheme, and a disturbing eagerness for conformity all in the name of the greater good.
While the book is undeniably American and thematically reflects the political climate, there are universal truths at the core which I think anyone can relate to no matter where they live. Issues of how mob mentality forms, people longing for a past that never existed, consumerism, and the refusal of people to acknowledge their own faults, all enriched the novel and left me pondering several ideas long after I’d finished reading.
There is something very Lynchian about Captain Clive’s Dreamworld, combining not only the 1950s Americana aesthetic of Angels and Hope, but also mixing in elements of surrealism, crime noir, and magical realism. Yet the book felt refreshingly new and avoided becoming derivative, and that’s largely due to the complex characters.
Likeable is not a term I would apply to any of the characters, not even Deputy Sam Hardy. But the author manages to show Hardy’s faults and insecurities in such a way that he’s relatable and you hope he will overcome his own demons. His brokenness is established in the first chapter as he half listens to his partner on their way to a crime scene. Hardy reflects, “Because without noise you were forced to focus on the images in your brain, and they were always filled with corpses, eyes staring right back at you, hands clawing at the air…” And the tone only gets darker from there.
So, if darkness and being terribly uncomfortable is how you prefer to reflect on real life horrors, then step on up, get your ticket, and enter Captain Clive’s Dreamworld.
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
[Trigger Warning: Sexual assault on a minor.]
About the Author:
Jon Bassoff was born in 1974 in New York City and currently lives with his family in a ghost town somewhere in Colorado. His mountain gothic novel, Corrosion, has been translated in French and German and was nominated for the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, France’s biggest crime fiction award. Two of his novels, The Drive-Thru Crematorium and The Disassembled Man, have been adapted for the big screen with Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild; Once Upon a Time in America) attached to star in The Disassembled Man. For his day job, Bassoff teaches high school English where he is known by students and faculty alike as the deranged writer guy. He is a connoisseur of tequila, hot sauces, psychobilly music, and flea-bag motels.