"Captain Clive’s Dreamworld" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Eraserhead Press
Written by Jon Bassoff
2020, 200 pages, Fiction
Released on 1st October, 2020
I have been a fan of Jon Bassoff for several years and in the world of weird fiction he is a shining light I am always happy to check out. Since his debut in 2013 he has released a novel most years, with his interpretation of ‘weird’ injecting horror, thrillers, surrealism, crime, bizarro and regular nightmare trips into the brains of psychos. Ultimately, his fiction is almost impossible to classify, which is very cool, and Jake Hinkson nailed it when he stated: “Bassoff is the ‘Kafka of Colorado", a writer who spins feverish nightmares out of the insane realities of modern life”. You will get no argument from myself. Digging deeper, you will find wild comments about this unpredictable author all over the internet and Dave Zeltersman even namechecked him along with three true giants as the product of what might be released from a literary blender: “Toss Kafka, David Lynch, and a pinch of Flannery O’Connor”. This is high praise indeed and Bassoff is usually worth the hype.
However, If Jon Bassoff is the king of strange, then Captain Clive’s Dreamworld falls short of his usual high standards. Of course, as you would expect, it is completely off-the-wall, amusing in parts and very quirky, but the final product lacks the shine of his best work. The plot is rather minimal and is populated with highly unlikable characters (not unusual for a Bassoff novel), but lacks the charm to be truly engaging. Also, there is an explicit rape of a child (with an audience cheering the perpetrator on) which I found to be truly unpleasant, lowering the tone of the book significantly. I appreciate this is part of a larger story arc, but it felt unnecessarily over the top and if it is there to shock, it worked. Overall, the book is full of odd scenes, some of which are outstanding, such as random neighbours invading personal space and inviting themselves into your home.
The main character is Deputy Sam Hardy, who is reassigned to the town of Angels and Hope after becoming the suspect in the death of a young woman, a suspected suicide. The sheriff believes that if they dig deeper into the case Hardy’s name will come up and they do not want the scandal. Also seeking a fresh start after splitting from his wife, Hardy heads to this strange new town, which has virtually no crime, with various insinuations being made about the circumstances surrounding the departure of the previous Deputy. In the promotional material, Ronald Malfi said: “Captain Clive’s Dreamworld winds its way through an eerie, Lynchian landscape, populated by Stepford citizenry, cursed lives, and all the bleak sensibilities of the direst Cormac McCarthy tale. Bassoff’s latest is a must read for fans of the genre, or any reader who prefers their fiction with a sense of the off kilter. Highly recommended!” Malfi enjoyed the book much more than I did, and I found little to compare to with McCarthy, but some elements of Lynch and Ira Levin’s The Stepford’s Wives both ring true.
Angels and Hope is a quirky town, predictably secretive and there is nothing on offer you might not have come across in a hundred other novels which turn the American Dream upside down. It is full of cardboard cut-out folks who smile too much, seem to know way too much about the personal life of Sam Hardy, rarely sleep and have their own strange habits and rituals which form a key part of the plot. The question is, how far does Sam want to dig in answering the many questions he has after a young woman disappears? When he asks around, it is as if she never existed.
Also, within the local borders of Angels and Hope is the once magnificent amusement park, Captain Clive’s Dreamworld, which when Hardy visits is completely empty and when he tries a ride is left hanging high and dry far above the ground. The book continually refers to Captain Clive, who is portrayed as some kind of founding father or benefactor, but could be anything from the dude who controls Oz, Big Brother from 1984 or a figment of the town’s imagination, all of which is part of a bigger puzzle for Hardy to investigate. None of this truly grabbed me, and the pay off, such as it is, is unpleasant rather than satisfying.
As Hardy begins snooping, his own past is drawn into question by the town, and he finds himself becoming more and more isolated, made worse by a shocking flashback scene in which his demons truly come home to roost. For the most part it makes sense, utilising elements of bizarro and the grotesque to point the finger at white picket fence America, whilst insinuating that behind the lace curtains (ala Lynch’s Blue Velvet) something filthy is going on in the background; everybody knows, but does not want to talk about it.
Bassoff’s fiction is incredibly hard to categorise and although I struggled with this novel, it is not without its merits and I am sure many of his regular readers will nevertheless enjoy it. However, if you are new to him, this might not be the best jumping in point and I would suggest his debut, Corrosion, The Drive Thru Crematorium, or his most recent release, The Lantern Man, which is more of a straight (albeit with some great banana twists) thriller.
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