Lisa de Nikolits, Everything You Dream Is Real. Inanna Publications, 2022. Pp. 323. ISBN 978-1-7713-3930-8. $22.95 pb/$11.99 e.
Reviewed by Christina De La Rocha
As the plot cartwheels, a motley crew of the old, the young, the lovelorn, the pregnant, the queer, the disabled, and the drug-addled overthrow the authoritarian patriarchy whose secret subterranean sex show funds its military operations. You might think what’s not to love? But, argh, for this reader possibly a few things. Your experience may differ, but I found this book frustrating rather than hilariously absurd. Everything You Dream Is Real is truly unique, has a strong voice, and is told by that cast of characters not traditionally represented in fiction, but the premise of the book changes as you move through it. Major details are lobbed in often and out of nowhere to change the direction of the plot in sort of a deus ex machina every couple of pages. I don’t often read a book and keep thinking, ‘well, geez, obviously I am a square,’ but I found this aspect of the book exhausting. I’m happy to go along for a wild ride with thrills and spills and absurdity, but I need to have some idea of the point of it at some stage well before the neatly wrapped up ending. As I’ve said, your experience may differ; I’ll wager the farm that out there in the great, big, wide world there’s a horde of rabid fans of Everything You Dream Is Real. It is that sort of book—one that either alienates you almost entirely or speaks to you so thunderously, it grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go.
Everything You Dream Is Real is a more or less standalone sequel to Lisa de Nikolits’ novel, The Rage Room (which I have not read). Things get going when Noelle tries to download Sharps, the alleged love of her life, out of his computer imprisonment. Among the many things unbeknownst to Sharps, he is the father of Noelle’s unborn child, who is developing in the uterus of a super hot supermodel pregnancy surrogate that Noelle met in a dive bar under suspicious circumstances. In short order, Noelle must to resort to reinforcements; Sharps, after many plot complications, gets packed into a new body; and then people get kidnapped, finally sort of moving us in the direction of discovering what apex the arc of the book is aiming for. And that’s just the beginning of the plot rolling out like a carpet that keeps changing directions.
In that, and several other senses, Everything You Dream Is Real indeed proceeds like a dream. The setting is familiar, yet bonkers; the characters are bizarre and the plot spins along to a crazed dreamworld logic, making turns without foreshadowing and leaps into sudden shifts in what exists. There’s also a time travel plot that could have been fun but spends more time threatening to materialize than actually ever materializing, such that when it does tie up some loose ends, you feel let down—or at least I did. Also, another one of my great pet peeves: the characters spend a lot of time bickering.
To sum up, I didn’t find Everything You Dream Is Real fun and I never warmed up to the characters. But there’s a good chance I’m a grouch on top of being a square— if you suspect you’re a reader as grumpy as me, then maybe don’t bother. But I know in my bones that there are plenty of people who wouldn’t be blind to the charms of this book and either already are or would become big fans. If you think you might be one of these people, there are worse things you could do than give Everything You Dream Is Real a go.