Still reeling from the tragic loss of his girlfriend in an accident in which he was driving, Jesse Hawkins has taken to the road, hoping to exorcise his demons while exploring the endless west on his motorcycle. However, every road comes to an end, and when Jesse finally returns home, he finds that the demons are more real than ever.
Thus begins Wolf River Dreams by Patrick Sarver, a tumultuous novel that blends surreal dream sequences with seemingly waking nightmares, as Jesse attempts to find some sense of normalcy in his haunted days. Regardless of how far he moves on in his life, his slumber brings him back to the horrors of the accident, the screech of the tires, and the knowledge that he was losing what could have been the great love of his life.
The dreams are not always so realistic, so some interpretation of these horrors is necessary at times, which makes for a chilling and evocative read. As this fascinating and sympathetic character moves through the novel, it is natural to root for him as he pieces his life back together, despite all the problems standing in his way.
Jesse tries to move on, find a new partner, and get his collegiate life back on track, but there is a looming worry that threatens to consume him – what if he is doomed to lose his mind? What if the horrors of the past can never be forgotten? What if his one chance at happiness was squandered in that unforgettable instant? These feelings are far from rare, and while his specific situation is tragic and unusual, many of the emotions he experiences are relatable for any reader, which is core to why the novel is so effective. Readers will find themselves reflecting on their own lives – digging through memories and questioning whether the past is still haunting them too – even in small, seemingly insignificant ways.
Sarver does a masterful job of setting up this rather short novel to be eerie and ominous, starting with the first few pages, and this mood rarely lifts for moments of lightheartedness. The descriptions of the dreams are spare but powerful, and every word that Sarver uses is carefully chosen.
Early on in the novel, it feels as though too much backstory is being forced into the novel too quickly, but in a book of less than 150 pages, a lot needs to be covered. At the same time, some elements of the book could have been expanded a bit more, as the premise of the novel is quite strong, so the structure of the book is somewhat uneven.
That said, the writing is clean and sharp, with few grammatical errors or stumbling points in the prose. Jesse is the most thoroughly crafted character, but the supporting cast is far from flimsy, and the meaningful exchanges of dialogue are beautifully scripted. For a short and impactful read, Wolf River Dreams is a book you are unlikely to forget, as it provides not only a chilling look at a character’s life, but maybe even your own.
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