July 2004

Veronica Bond

fiction

Do the Blind Dream? by Barry Gifford

Sometimes I think I just don’t get things. Not in the way that I don’t get how the initial idea for The Swan was ever deemed good, but sometimes I think I just don’t get the point. It’s either way above me or off to the left somewhere, or maybe it was never there at all and not getting it was the point entirely. Reading Barry Gifford’s collection of short stories, entitled Do the Blind Dream? gave me that feeling of not being all too certain that I understood the author’s words. But, I think that may have been the effect he had been wanting all along.

The title story centers on a group of siblings attending their mother’s funeral. It’s a telling of the family’s secrets, the children born of the same father but sharing different mothers, and the abuse that occurred within those families. The scene, which seems an ordinary gathering to mourn and remember of the dead, turns surreal when the deceased adds her words to the conversation, gets up out of her coffin, and follows the family around the church. Disclosures of the family’s dysfunction continue when the mother tells of her husband’s twisted, sexual relationship with his sister which later led to one daughter’s special, if in complete denial, bond between her and her father. Whether the family hears or even notices the dead woman isn’t made fully clear, but her determination to comfort her grieving family is. I was never entirely sure if the scene was actually happening, or if one of the family members was dreaming, or it was all in the mind of the woman who died. Those details Gifford seems to have left purposefully obscure.

Another story tells of an estranged brother, found only through the coincidental meeting of his girlfriend, Terry, and his sister, Amelia, at a rural gas station. Amelia decides to take Terry up on her offer and spend time with them, in hopes that she will reconnect with the brother that she hasn’t seen in six years. Although the reunion doesn’t occur, Amelia’s brief conversation with her brother over the phone prompts him to drive out to the country and visit her and the Uncle that watched over them as children. How the story ends, however, is again unclear, as Terry tells Amelia of her brother’s bad dream, there is a possible gunshot, and an emerald ring that is in someway symbolic is passed on.

What runs through Gifford’s mind when he composes these stories and what he actually puts down in words must be completely different arrangements. The stories are almost threadbare in their presentations, telling pieces of a narrative here and there, but never fully managing to give the reader a complete picture. However, that might be okay -- even though the result may be a bit frustrating, it’s much more in the curious sense than the angry one. Gifford’s longest piece in the book, a novella titled “Havana Moon,” reads like a mystery, with betrayed trust, concealed identities, and unrequited love all in one. What really happens in “Havana Moon,” I can’t say because… I never really figured that out. I felt like tapping the shoulder of the person next to me and whispering, “I don’t get it…I thought she was with him? Wasn’t she with him? Oh…she’s not with him? Then who’s she with?” But that would have been rude and, seeing as I read most of this on the El, a little bit weird. I can, however, say that for the person who enjoys muddled plots and characters pretending to be other characters and short pieces that, I’m sure, mean something in someone’s head, Do the Blind Dream? may very well be for you. I’m not saying I wouldn’t read more of Gifford’s work, as his ability to tell a story using only the fewest of words and the bizarre points around which he chooses to revolve his stories are actually quite interesting, I’m just saying that I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand everything he’s buried between his pages. Although, somehow -- I think he may be fine with that.

Do the Blind Dream? by Barry Gifford
Seven Stories Press
ISBN: 1583226354
210 pages