Book Review: Captain Clive’s Dreamworld
Jon Bassoff, Eraserhead Press, 234 pages
Early in Deputy Sam Hardy’s adulthood, he marries a woman he loves, they have a daughter they are too poor to support, so they give her up for adoption.
Despite Hardy’s adoration for his wife, he cheats on her, and they part ways.
After a run-in with a prostitute serves as a raw reminder of his poor life choices, the down-and-out deputy is given a chance to redeem himself when he is reassigned to represent the forces of law and order in a seemingly idyllic community, Angels and Hope, adjacent to Captain Clive’s Dreamworld, an amusement park that employs the local townsfolk.
The problem is, Captain Clive’s Dreamworld, named after Angels and Hope’s patron entrepreneur, is not much of an amusement park at all. A freak accident shortly after opening causes a girl’s death that fails forever after to attract customers to the entertainment destination. Along with a series of mysterious young female disappearances, Hardy soon finds himself embroiled in an investigation to determine how, exactly, Angels and Hope supports itself.
Hardy discovers that beneath the façade of the town’s white-washed houses and year-round Christmas celebrations is a community which, much like himself, is possessed by a rotten core that challenges the deputy to question how much he is willing to resist the flawed life his neighbors have created for themselves. In doing so, Hardy is forced to explore his conscience and overcome his worst impulses, or be destroyed by his tendencies toward self-delusion and escape.
I am not a strict fan of horror, crime, or fantasy, so I am open to any well-written tale that combines these genres, and Jon Bassoff delivers with his bizarro mash-up. In Captain Clive’s Dreamworld, he creates a plot peculiar enough to pique my interest with characters compelling enough to keep me curious about their fate (although he does test how much empathy I have for a man with the kinds of relationship issues Hardy has, or how much I care about members of a cult who only drink hot cocoa at never-ending holiday parties in the desert).
The contradictions expressed in Captain Clive’s Dreamworld are many, and deliberately so, since it is a surreal comment on American life, but what I believe is Bassoff’s lasting achievement with his narrative, beyond its premise, is the sentence-by-sentence craft of his storytelling, a lyrical quality in his prose that kept me tethered until the tale’s conclusion. Although some story content is disturbing, I find it easy to appreciate the overall art of Bassoff’s brand of bizzaro fiction, and I look forward to reading more of his work.
Ryan Hyatt, Feb. 19, 2021