Dreaminess by Deb Anna

It seems a rather optimistic and extreme move to make — downright ballsy, as a matter of fact — but I’m going to go ahead and pick the protagonist of the book I’m currently reading as my favorite literary character. Is it because I’m positive he’s the ultimate, be-all, end-all character, filled with nuances and quirks and thoughts that none I’ve encountered before has possessed? No. But after just a few minutes of bandying about Holden Caulfield versus various Martin Amis dark and sardonic guys versus several classic Jane Austen heroines, I realized that what I’m being asked to do here is something akin to Sophie’s Choice so I may as well just cling to what’s closest.

And so, by default, the honor goes to you, Frank Bascombe. And he is by no means undeserving. I don’t tend to be a fan of simple, direct writing — never got the Hemingway thing, for instance — so I was a bit concerned when Frank introduced himself with, “My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.” The friend who recommended Richard Ford to me first raved about his writing, then stopped and worried that she’d raved too much since he’s “such a male writer.” I swore that, much to my own shame, I’m such a male writer reader, and she, relieved, continued her rave and then explained the exact order I should read the Ford books in.

Then, last week, when I was in New York and walking down the street on a downright balmy night, I saw The Sportswriter for sale on one of those tables where people seem to be selling all their earthly goods. I woke up the guy next to the table, handed him my $3, and went back to my hotel for a bubble bath and, I figured, a few pages of a book that I probably wouldn’t like and was surely reading out of order (I can’t recall the order she gave me, but I feel certain I’m doing it wrong). But then, within the first 10 pages, I was crying. Frank and his ex-wife — the simply named X — are visiting their son’s grave on his birthday and there’s no overt attempt to tug at the heartstrings, which is perhaps why it seemed so sad. Just two people dealing with tragic circumstances, not at all sure what to say and feel, and simply attempting to not do or say anything horribly wrong.

What I love about this character is that he’s aware of everything — nothing seems to pass by him without him being painfully, shockingly aware of it — and yet he refuses to surrender to depression. He does this by, he explains, being dreamy, which he summarizes like this: “Dreaminess is, among other things, a state of suspended recognition, and a response to too much useless and complicated factuality.” Ahhh — dreaminess…something I could use far more of in my mind. You know those people that never seem to let their circumstances get them too down? They always have this dreaminess to them — this sense that nothing about life is too painful because they’re floating just above everything, none too fixated on anything but the most basic experiences that will bring them pleasure. (There’s another term for this state of being: “in denial.”) And, well, what I love about Frank is that he’s aware of everything and making a conscious choice not to be as a way of coping with circumstances too painful to process.

Denial? Dreaminess? Are they the same thing? What do you think?

7 Replies to “Dreaminess by Deb Anna”

  1. I’m not sure what I think about dreaminess and denial (other than both come in handy at times!), but I love Frank Bascombe too. And, relax, you’re reading in the correct order. Next up will be “Independence Day” followed by “Lay of the Land.” Enjoy.

  2. No, I think they’re somewhat different because denial suggests a lack of acceptance, while dreaminess accepts the truth but copes with it on the individual’s own terms. Judy Larsen is an expert at this in her debut novel, ALL THE NUMBERS, which coincidently happens to be featured on my post for today at Seize a Daisy. Serendipity? Could very well be, Anna, especially given the way in which you finally found Frank Bascombe.

  3. Anna, I’m feeling dreamy with envy that
    a) you were in New York,
    b) it was actually balmy,
    c) you had time for a bubble bath and a book!

    Sounds like a great book – particularly how the couple didn’t know what to say or feel. How very human.

  4. I’m all for dreaminess, and think I do a decent job of maintaining some degree of it — although my family sometimes uses the term “spaciness.” Hmm. I do think denial is refusing to admit something is happening — dreaminess can acknowledge reality without giving into it. Sounds like a great book, either way. So many Pulitzer-Prize-winning authors, so little time…

  5. Maybe I should try Frank’s dreamy approach to help combat some of my current challenges — I am totally letting them get me down. But only for a moment — I respond by getting my hands into whatever it is that’s immobilizing me, and then I find that the gears start moving again. And I am so glad you reminded me about this book, Anna!

  6. I agree with Ms. McMahon’s definition of dreaminess. I was in the Army and trust me when I say that dreaminess came in handy quite a bit….

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