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Memory and Dream, Charles de Lint, TOR, 1994, 400 pp.

De Lint's early Newford novel, Memory and Dream, demonstrates all of the promise of what was to come for the fiction in this setting, while still retaining a good deal of the feel of his earlier works. By the time of Trader, Newford was truly coming into its own, so Memory and Dream represents an interesting bridge between early and late de Lint. Memory and Dream also considers the powers and responsibilities of a creator, much more so than some of de Lint's other books that deal with artsy characters. This mimics de Lint's own realization of the power of his writing (which I'll discuss more in a minute).

Memory and Dream is a master and apprentice story at its heart, but like any Newford story, there is a group of main characters involved. Isabelle Copley (Izzy) is the young painter, who meets up with Vincent Rushkin, who is held in awe in the art community. Rushkin offers to take Izzy as his apprentice, and Izzy accepts -- Izzy has the ability to create real people from her painted characters (called numena) and Rushkin might have the knowledge to help her master her talent. Unfortunately, this relationship sours quickly as Izzy discovers more about Rushkin's true nature. The apprenticeship with Rushkin is in the book's past, approximately twenty years previous, as Izzy and her friends are in college. The book opens with Izzy getting a long-delayed letter from her friend Kathy, who died half a dozen years before. Kathy was a writer whose fame is now on the rise, and Izzy and Kathy's mutual friend, Alan, is publishing a new edition of Kathy's works. Also involved in the plot are various numena, the beings called forth from the worlds in Izzy's paintings. John Sweetgrass is Izzy's estranged lover, and this relationship might qualify as one of the most complicated I've encountered. Sweetgrass has a not-so-nice double, who has teamed up with some of the more dangerous numena to cause trouble. There is a good deal of pain and distress in Memory and Dream, but the book is also about friendship and building a community.

To create such a sense of community, you need good characterization, and as per usual, de Lint is ready for the challenge. Some old friends of Newford are here, Jilly and Geordie and so forth, although at this point this is one of their first appearances (as I've said in reviews of other Newford works, it's impossible to return to first impressions after having read all of the books). New characters fit in seamlessly, which is one of the beautiful aspects of Newford. De Lint spends a good deal of time building the backstory of the college days of Izzy, Kathy, and Alan, and they become as interesting and real as the recurring characters. The story of Kathy's death is quite moving, and through excerpts from her journals, we get a sense of her life. These sections are reminiscent of several of the stories about depression in the Newford short story collections.

The idea of the relationship between Izzy and her numena can be understood in many ways. One of the most basic is as a commentary about family, and the way that parents create children, and the accompanying obligations. Another version of this theme is de Lint himself as creator; de Lint has become more concerned with social justice over the years, as we read about the underdog, the importance of community, and how the marginalized voices are generally given preference in Newford. Not to say that de Lint writes dogmatically or boringly! Most of these concerns grow organically from a well-told and interesting narrative, as is the case in Memory and Dream. The theme goes even deeper, as we can consider the strange connections between reality and fantasy, and the importance of the stories we tell. A quote from Kathy's journal: "Characters discovered in such writing are pulled from our own inner landscapes -- the way Izzy would pull her numena from hers -- and then set out upon the stories' various stages so that as we learn to understand them a little better, both the monsters and the angels, we come to understand ourselves a little better as well" (323). De Lint writes the idea perfectly here, but he also demonstrates it with much grace in his novels.


Last modified: February 24, 2000

Copyright © 2000 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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