by Robert J. Wiersema
Published by Random House Canada
496 pages, 2010
Not to Be Read at Bedtime
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
There’s something about Robert J. Wiersema’s voice that I have found consistently disturbing. In three novels now, Wiersema reaches out and grabs his audience, then tortures them where it aches. That isn’t always an easy place for a reader to sit. And, no matter how you feel about that, it’s an uncommon writer who can stir that kind of reaction. Hence the fanfare.
Bedtime Story, out this month from Random House Canada, follows two earlier novels by this author: both widely acclaimed, though neither Before I Wake or the novella The World More Full of Weeping were quite as powerful as this one. That’s a good sign. You get the idea that Wiersema is a writer who is reaching for the full powers of his craft. Where this all is going is yet to be seen. But the journey thus far is well worth watching.
Bedtime Story is certainly Wiersema’s most ambitious work to date. There are stories within stories here. Themes within themes. The mind boggles sometimes just trying to keep up. But reader shouldn’t worry: Wiersema is skilled enough to get our attention when he wants to.
The main thread concerns struggling novelist Christopher Knox, working hard to live up to his first very successful novel -- and, ten years on, failing badly -- while treading water with his family, wife Jacqui and son David. As the book opens, he's losing both of them in different ways.
Chris gives his son a copy of a book by an author he himself loved when he was a child. David is underwhelmed by the gift: the kid was hoping for Lord of the Rings.
The gift book, a strange fantasy adventure story called To the Four Directions by one Lazarus Took, provides Bedtime Story’s second thread: and we get it all, up close and personal, as we read the fantasy novel along with the readers, with all the sword and sorcery accoutrements in place.
I’m not a big fan of that genre, so I did not become lost in this part of Wiersema’s confection. However young David is not so lucky and, before long, he becomes strangely, darkly and even medically lost in the story his father had hoped would merely enchant him.
The story is first, and Wiersema does not skimp. But we’re also given a great deal more to think about. The nature of relationships. The way fathers and sons fit together. The sometimes twinned natures of talent and fame. The place of genre in literature. There’s more here -- some of it I’d probably have to glean on a second pass through -- but that is part of the richness Wiersema gifts us with, as well.
Bedtime Story is all that it should be. More. It is frightening. It is fabulous entertainment. It is intensely thought-provoking. Above all, it is a hint and a tickle of things to come. Wiersema is a wonderful writer reaching towards full power. Bedtime Story is a very good book, but I have no doubt that the best is yet to come. | November 2010
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several novels.