The Dreamers is an odd story. It could almost be a novel about the path of infection and its impact on society, but it stops short from becoming a medical drama. It could be a story about survivors, but it never quite reaches that path. Instead, I would describe it best as a story about isolation and its many guises. There is minimal action within the novel; the disease involves people sleeping after all. There is also very little dialogue. We experience the beginning, middle, and end of the disease’s reign mainly through the minds of various characters and only sometimes an unknown observer. This lack of direct character interaction lends itself well to the theme of isolation, as does the sleeping disease. After all, sleep is the one activity we do alone and can only ever do alone. Unfortunately, this lack of pretty much anything means The Dreamers is not my type of novel. I want something into which I can escape, and The Dreamers does not allow me to do that. I prefer my books to entertain as well as engage the mind, and The Dreamers is not entertaining. Instead, it is the thinking reader’s type of novel, the kind of literary fiction that certain types of readers will love to dissect sentence by sentence. I will leave them to it.
Maid is one of those stories that people love to read to make themselves feel learned and liberal. Stephanie Land’s story is tragic, and there is no doubt that she had to overcome a lot in the name of survival. I want to love Maid and tout it as a valuable insight into our welfare system, which it is and yet is not. The thing is that Ms. Land is white, which means her experiences with government assistance and poverty are a whole hell of a lot different than someone else’s experience. Not once does Ms. Land recognize this fact as she tells her story. She does not acknowledge the fact that people are more willing to bargain with her or trust her in their homes because she is blond and she is white. She does not recognize the privilege that comes with white skin, and there is just one area where I find fault with the book.
At one point in time, Ms. Land mentions visiting her mother in France, and the statement struck me as so incongruous with her story that I stopped reading for the day. You see, Ms. Land mentions several times how her family has a history of struggling with poverty and how her parents couldn’t help her when her life fell apart because they had money problems of their own. Ms. Land also intimates that her money problems started early, that she always had one foot on the poverty line and relied on her boyfriend to keep her above the line. Throughout all this, she somehow finds a way to visit her mother in France, where she moved after Stephanie was out of the house and on her own. I grew up firmly entrenched in the middle class to two teachers. We were not poor; we went on vacations every year and could afford to eat out once in a while. But not once while I was growing up could my parents afford to fly to Europe. I know this one statement should not bother me in light of what Ms. Land shows regarding the assistance programs, but I still wonder how Ms. Land could afford that trip to France when she was working in coffee shops and bars and relying on her boyfriend to help with bills and rent. A little bit of sympathy at her situation dissolved upon reading that line, never to return.
I fear that people are going to treat Maid as they did Hillybilly Elegy, which means they are going to read it and consider themselves experts in all things welfare-related. It is a remarkable story, but it is not the only story. I would argue it is not the typical story in any fashion. Ms. Land, growing up to middle-class parents, has already had access to privileges most people in the welfare system will never have. That and the color of her skin means her experiences are not the same as a person of color or someone for whom English is a second language. That she does not explicitly identify these privileges bothers me, and the fact that Maid is gaining the buzz it already has bothers me even more. I can’t say that you shouldn’t read it, but I recommend you go in knowing its faults and that Ms. Land’s story, while tragic, is still not the typical story of someone on welfare.
I am not confident Mr. Winters is an author I should continue to read. I liked The Last Policeman reasonably well, but I did not love it as everyone else seemed to have done, and I have yet to continue the series. I found Underground Airlines odd and forgettable. His latest novel, Golden State, left me underwhelmed. It put me to sleep a lot. I managed at least three naps in the course of reading it over three days. While I recognize the timeliness of a story about a country in which a lie is the biggest crime one can commit, I am not sure what Mr. Winters is trying to accomplish with his story. I could say Golden State proves that there is no one truth and that no matter how much one tries, the whole truth is unknowable.
On the other hand, I could say that Mr. Winters is trying to prove that to believe that there is no such thing as truth means to give up on society and that it is the belief that truth exists which keeps society from devolving into chaos and anarchy. Either way, it is a bit too philosophical for my taste with no satisfying ending to offset the philosophy. The story takes some leaps that require stretching the imagination a bit too far, and there is a disturbing lack of explanation for at least one of those leaps. The whole story leaves me unimpressed and a bit befuddled. It also has me thinking I should probably stay away from anything Mr. Winters writes in the future.