I’m all too familiar with author Jon Bassoff, having published him in my time with DarkFuse. And when I heard Eraserhead Press was releasing his next novel, I was definitely eager to read Bassoff’s work from the other side of the spectrum…as a fan and reader of dark literature.
With Jon, it’s an understatement to claim his work is just dark. It’s dark definitely, but gritty, surreal, and at times his prose and stories have the tendency to drag you down into that very dark creative recesses of Jon’s imagination.
Captain Clive’s Dreamworld can be best summed up as the idea of one person’s hell being another person’s paradise or vice versa. This novel takes you to a town called Angels and Hope, alongside protagonist Sam Hardy, to an oasis of escape from the horrible realities of the real world.
The first impressions of Angels and Hope, through the perspectives of Hardy, lean to an early conclusion that the utopia is false, more hell than heaven, formed by lies not truth. The cultish behavior of its townspeople under the mysterious leadership of Captain Clive is the engine to the mystery that unravels during the book. But also the mystery of how squeaky clean or relatively filthy the protagonist (by way of his past) really is.
The notion that hell and heaven are very subjective ideas and are interchangeable is one of the many underlying themes populating this novel. It is mirrored with a slight snub to capitalism and the American dream (from my perspective of interpretation), of how society and social media paint alternate realities for its citizens. Bassoff’s tale also digs in the dirt looking for humanity’s collective soul and what he finds, using the vehicle of his main character, Mr. Sam Hardy, is probably not what most readers will expect in the end.
Remembering my time as a publisher and copyediting Bassoff’s work, this is an author who writes cleanly and efficiently. There is not much wasted space inside his work. He gets to the point. His novels are short and focused on the heart of the book’s central idea and theme, not wrapped up into padded descriptions as some authors like to do, as if they’ve fallen in love with their own prose (which I find utterly frustrating).
Although Jon doesn’t pad his work, he often writes a passage that is simple, but remarkably powerful. One of my favorites in this book follows.
The way he figured it, this little town, stinking of slaughter (see the hogs shackled and stuck) and poverty (see the filthy children peering from shotgun shacks) was no different than the wealthiest suburb or loveliest island. Everybody suffered, everybody died—they just went about it in different ways.
—Jon Bassoff, from captain clive’s dreamworld
The dialogue is sharp. Two highlights that stayed with me were in Chapter 7 at the Dream Café where the group of old women (described by one character as ‘the witches’) gossiped about the locals. By the time that scene was over, it made me shiver in disgust, as the back and forth dehumanized these individuals far below a witch’s standards at the same time as darkening the utopian feel of their surroundings. The later scene with the MC at the shopping spree was dead-pan disturbing considering the atmosphere that Bassoff had already created.
Kudos to Eraserhead Press for putting out a nice clean product. A great cover and design by Matthew Revert. Very few typographical errors.
As a reviewer, much like as an editor and publisher, I refuse to shy away from taking the harder path when stating the honest truth that can amount to harsh criticism. If you’re a book reviewer, you must be balanced to have your worth.
With that said, this review won’t have a lot of teeth or bite marks, as the book was well worth my 3 hours+ in reading it.
But keeping with the theme mentioned earlier (one person’s hell, another’s heaven), the following may be a paradox in its subjectiveness, but Bassoff tends to streak through his novels, particularly this one. While an author like Stephen King takes you on a slow Sunday cruise with lush descriptions, Bassoff steps on the gas and peels out from page one to the end. His stripped down prose may give some readers whiplash. At times, the story feels much like the scenery is whizzing by. But, then, in just 234 pages, he packs a lot of grit into the cement of his pathway through the storytelling.
About midway through the novel, there seemed to be a minor lull in the plot. Again, a paradox, as Bassoff’s prose seemed to be stuck in one hell of a burnout at a yield sign.
Overall, this is an onyx gem of a book and worth every penny. It’ll make you think, wonder and ultimately may even depress you (but in the most artistically positive way possible). Congratulations to Jon for adding yet another solid release to his bibliography.