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Wednesday
Feb202019

Book Review: DreamRail

DreamRail: Connected Short StoriesMichael Ripley. Pen It! Publications, LLC, November 7, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 266 pages.

Reviewed by Gail Galvan.

My first suggestion before reading this book: tune in to a “Twilight Zone” thought process mode before delving in. This tactic will likely help readers understand what’s going on and enable them to enjoy the stories sooner. 

Admittedly, I was a little confused at first. But I guess that’s what happens when a book is different and an author takes a risk. DreamRail takes an interesting and unique approach by connecting short stories and lives. The main character and four co-workers ride separate trains to work and make up a writers’ group that meets for lunch at Poppy’s several times a week. They share strange stories they have written. Often the tales seem more like nightmares than dreams and include paranormal indications.

The author shares many wildly imaginative circumstances and events in his stories, along with some clear-cut interwoven morals. For instance: there is “Tragadar.” On a train ride aboard the California Zephyr, Jim, the main character, narrowly avoids dying in a tragic accident. Why? Because he pays attention to his premonitions whenever they occur—his “tragadar voice,” a combination of “tragedy” and “radar.” Other victims perish, but somehow with his magical, saving tragadar instincts, Jim escapes dying in (foreseen) fatal plane and train crash infernos.

A couple of my favorite stories are titled “And So We Shall” and “Fourth Floor Monitor.” In the first, the author paints an environmentalist picture of talking birds flying off with the main character and then once again, setting him back down. The birds explain that, for the time being, “We put up with certain amounts of poison, even greater amounts of pollution in the world, and your way of building everything opposite to our harmony. Our world, our lives are still worth more than the dangers you pose.”  

The latter story is an eerie tale which deals with modern day fears and realities that health insurance is not always going to see people through a possible health crisis. One of the characters, a health insurance representative, sits by the bedside of a critically ill patient in a hospital hooked to some type of monitor. The author describes the scene in vivid detail from the glistening waxed tile floors to the composition of various musical sounds reverberating through the hospital hallway, that of “rubber soles, baritone feet, unique tones” and, “a strangely unified cadence.”

The sick and dying become not only victims of their diseases, but also of a completely insensitive health insurance agent who calls the shots; he pushes a stop button exactly when “time’s up.”  In one scene, a loving daughter watches her father take his last breaths. Life and story over, just like that.

I like the concept of another story which depicts a character, Thomas, who constantly questions the decisions that he makes. Always prone to indecisiveness, his condition heightens to a critical level, especially after a bullet strikes his car, ricochets off of it, and kills a man. In the end, he is so deeply affected—by his crippling indecisiveness and fear of upsetting the domino effect of whatever might happen due to any and every specific choice and move he makes—that he becomes mentally disabled. The only solution: hospitalization.

I grew up with railroad tracks just behind my house, so I can identify with the author’s connection to trains. Trains give us a feeling as if we can just hop on and enjoy one adventure after another, go wherever we want to. The author views trains “like a spider web” covering hundreds of miles. He makes us picture ourselves sitting on a train looking out the window at the “people going every imaginable direction, riding this cobweb of iron rail, the electric engines.” 

I enjoyed Ripley’s book. Although at times, due to the content, I thought perhaps a more apropos title might be NightmareRail. After reading the book I wondered: as long as trains conjure up this adventurous, dreamy aspect of our souls and the possibility of traveling anywhere, why not add some stories or do a sequel about outrageously happy tales, like “The Little Engine that Could” and movies such as The Polar Express. It figures that a “DreamRail” can lead us to wherever we want to travel, so I’d love to read some wildly imaginative, happy adventures in the next book.  

A little fine-tuned editing would also improve the book, though I am aware that the author belongs to two real-life writers’ groups, so I’m sure he is always working towards honing his craft and perfecting his literary work. 

 

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