Eater of Dreams, The

22 November 2019

The Eater of Dreams
by Kat Cameron
Published by Thistledown Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl|
$20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-184-6

Kat Cameron, a Swift Current-born poet, fiction writer, and English literature prof at Edmonton’s Concordia University, has penned a place-specific collection of sometimes-linked stories with an intriguing title: The Eater of Dreams, and the 67-page eponymous story is a fascinating read, complete with a 100-year-old ghost, a grieving and disillusioned English teacher in Japan, and so many sensory-rich glimpses into Japanese culture – albeit from an outsider’s perspective – readers might almost believe they are there.

The opening stories are Edmonton-based, and as a former resident of that city I enjoyed tagging along with the female protagonists to the Muttart Conservatory, Whyte Ave, and Jubilee Auditorium, even if these gals were not in the happiest moods. One was not having any fun being the sole woman in a trio at the Muttart Conservatory without a toddler, then she lost her friend’s little girl among the poinsettas. Zoe lives in a university-area garret that’s so cold her “breath fogged the air while she watched late-night TV, huddling under three comforters,” and she’s terrified an abusive ex will reappear. In a linked story, Zoe accompanies her new boyfriend to a family funeral in Calgary, and not only does she get put on the spot by being asked to sing “Amazing Grace,” she forgets the words; a snowstorm forces them to turn around on the highway at the end of the miserable day; and she contends that her “problems trailed after her like plumes of car exhaust on a winter night”.

Some of the descriptions really stand out, ie: in another Zoe story, her brother “has a small goatee, like a line of dirt extending down from his sideburns”. In “Searching for Spock,” Kalla’s grandfather “smelled of peppermints, mothballs and wool” and her grandmother’s early-morning baking filled the kitchen with smells of “crystallized brown sugar and yeast with a bitter overlay of smoke”.

The sensory details are strongest in the effective title story. The protagonist, Elaine, is lonely and grieving the death of her fiancĂ© while teaching at a Japanese high school. This is good: “The air smells of gasoline, hot tar, spilled beer, overlaid with a whiff of freesias and roses. The rain starts, a few sprinkles, then falls in thick, warm ropes” and it “drums on the iron stairs”. See, smell, hear.

Elaine’s estranged from her parents and apart from a connection with one kind student, her “longest conversations have been crank phone calls,” ie: students calling to giggle and ask “Do you li-ku sex-u?”. Elaine begins to appreciate the company of Lafcadio, a former writer and present ghost who frequently materializes as a misty shape in the teacher’s cockroach-infested apartment. When the details take shape – “His hair is white and springs back from his forehead with a Mark Twain folksiness,” – she thinks “If I had to attract a ghost, couldn’t he be thirty-something and look like Laurence Fishburne”.

Sporadic humour, cultural insights, and the wisdom the narrator gains from intensive self-study make this long story a terrific read.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM THE SASKATCHEWAN PUBLISHERS GROUP WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

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