Title: Deprivation; or, Benedetto furioso: an oneiromancy
Author: Alex Jeffers
Publisher: Lethe Press
Amazon: Buy Link Deprivation; or, Benedetto furioso: an oneiromancy
Genre: speculative gay fiction
Rating. 4.25 stars out of 5
A guest review by Sirius.
Summary: Unusual book with reality and dreams mixed together so much that it was hard to figure out what was real. I liked it overall.
the interpretation of dreams in order to foretell the future.
Sleep deprivation does funny things to your head. Steeped in the romance of Renaissance Italian literature, Ben Lansing isn’t coping well with the routines of his first post-college job, his daily commute from Providence, Rhode Island, to Boston, the inevitable insomnia and lack of sleep, or the peculiarly vivid dreams when he does manage to sleep.
For Ben “wished to be a paladin. He wished to mount Ariosto’s hippogriff and fly to the moon. He wished to sing a Baroque aria of stunning, shocking brilliance, bringing the audience to its feet roaring, ‘Bravo! Bravissimo!’ He wished to run mad for love.”
When Ben encounters a lost prince squatting in a derelict South Boston warehouse with his little sister and elder brother, exiles of an imaginary Italy, he resolves to rescue Dario and Dario’s family—and himself. Stumbling from dream to real life and back again, Ben begins a fabulous quest. Amid visions of futures, pasts, strangely altered presents, he encounters mythic personages—raffish bike messenger/artist Neddy, dilettante translator Kenneth, his own mother and father. He falls in and out of love. He witnesses the flight of the hippogriff and the collapses of the New England economy and his parents’ marriage. He discovers what he never knew he was looking for all along.
In Deprivation, a novel as real as a fairy tale or romantic Renaissance epic, neither Ben nor the reader can ever feel certain of being awake or dreaming, walking the streets of Boston or the mazy paths of dreamland. Can you separate wish from fulfilment? Do you want to?
I wanted to read something unusual, beautiful and thought provoking, and based on my past experiences with this writer’s work, I figured I would get it. The book delivered, but it also delivered some unexpected frustration along with it.
As you can see from the blurb, the protagonist in the book, Ben, sometimes (or often) loses track of when his experiences are real and when he is dreaming. I thought it would be fun to read a the book like that, and I certainly was not bored as the writing flowed easily, etc. I am not sure if I agree with the blurb that Ben is going on any sort of quest, though, since we are just witnessing him living his life while he is awake and/or asleep.
It was truly impossible for me to figure out what experiences are supposed to be real, and I suspect this is at least partially the point. Mythical and real were intertwined so tightly that I had no idea how to separate that. I mean, I thought I got the hang of what was real at some point, but it was definitely not quite what the blurb suggests. Again, I thought the uncertainty was fun and amusing, but of course then I started thinking, what was the reason for such uncertainty?
See, the unexpected frustration I felt was because when you do not know what is real and what is not, if you are like me at some point you start to think that you do not really know the narrator, because when something is not really happening, it is not really supposed to reflect the character’s experiences, his maturing, right?
What I decided is, real or not, it is still Ben’s experience even if it is reflected in the bizarre way in his dreams and decided to run with it. I think I ended up liking him quite a bit. I started to wonder whether his dream-like experiences reflect the things which he wants but cannot obtain in his life? At some point one of the characters in the book (Kenneth, who is referenced in the blurb) says this:
“When I’m conscious, I really only think in words and sentences. I don’t have any visual memory at all. Dreams are mostly image, I can’t hold onto them”
I wonder if this sentence can be applied to Ben as well. If Ben’s journey is a quest (while the blurb does describe it as such I did not think about that way at first), then I guess it is a quest for love first and foremost. But please do not expect a romance — different men (again, not sure whether all of them were real) seem to pop in and out of Ben’s life, but the author does not devote nearly enough time to developing Ben’s relationship with any of them to consider the book a romance in my opinion. At one point in the book Ben thinks that he is in love with the most elusive figures of them all.
“But what Ben really had wanted to say was: I’m scared of myself. I’m scared of these feelings, this depth of feeling. I’ve never really been in love before”
I wonder if that meant that first Ben fell in love in the dream to get himself used to the idea that he can and will fall in love, and when that eventually and hopefully could come he would be ready for it? I guess it was also opened for the multiple interpretations as so many things in this book.
But the book touches on so many other themes such as art and music (I am sure there are many art references in Ben’s everyday life and dreams that I missed). We get to witness some of Ben’s relationship with his parents and I am sure at least part of that was presented as a dream (no do not ask me which one 🙂 as I have no idea).
I think the mix of all those themes was successful, and as I said, while I ended up liking Ben and wishing that the last page of the book was really happening, I am still not sure whether I really know him.