Review: “Oneironaut,” Phoenix Williams

Pros: Unusual style and voice; concept grew on me
Cons: Terrible grammar and… well, weird stuff
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Phoenix Williams’s Oneironaut is a story about Henry, who lives two parallel lives. One is the ‘real world’, while the other is a dream. While the dream world isn’t always a nice world, it’s better than the one he always goes back to. He’s even fallen out of love with his real wife, Helen, while falling in love with Maggie, a woman from his dream. As Henry becomes more and more attached to the dream world, his real world self descends into madness as he attempts to spend all of his time in dreams. And as for his dreams–they’re taking a dangerous turn.

 

I’m having the damndest time figuring out how to rate this book. The author uses terrible grammar, and there are a lot of off-the-wall word choices that left me saying, I don’t think that word means what you think it means:

Henry let out an amazed swoon.

There are cases when the unusual and unexpected word choices could be a deliberate style choice contributing to a unique writer’s voice. On the other hand, quite a few lines depict actions that are physical impossibilities:

He … picked himself back up so quick that his bones seemed to be made of gelatin.

I’m pretty sure that if his bones were made of gelatin he wouldn’t be able to stand at all, let alone get up unusually quickly. In Williams’s text there are “eyes being shifty” and “an intense look of action” on a man’s face (what does a ‘look of action’ even look like?). I wonder whether Williams learned English as a second language. Some wordings seem less like a grammar mistake or spelling error than perhaps a case of differing cultural context. There are certain oddities that have that feel of being poorly translated from something that originally made a different kind of sense.

To move on from the wording, elements of the back-and-forth between the real world and the world of dreams intrigued me while others just confused. It took me a while to get pulled in as Henry goes from dream sequence to dream sequence seemingly at random, but later on a plot takes form. There’s very little action at all in this book, but the highly-detailed dreams can be oddly compelling. The weird word problems pulled me out at times, but toward the end of the book I wanted to know what happened next in his world of dreams.

I guess I’ll go with a 2.5 out of 5. In almost any other book the volume of grammar and word issues would drop this rating to a one or two, but the unusual writer’s voice and the oddly compelling later dreams pull that number up.

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