Our authors were tasked with writing a story about dreams. Not the aspirational type that athletes always talk about, but the lay your head to rest kind. Let’s see if these dreams are fantasies or nightmares.
Joseph Devon slept through the snooze button with “Waking Slumber”
B.T. Joy slipped into dreamland with “News from Wise Monkey.”
Our first judge is occasional Arena combatant, the British Brawler himself, David Webb. Let’s see what he has to say.
I look forward to the Arena. I’m an unabashed fan. Two new stories a week? What’s not to like? Well, this week I get to Judge and, of course, it’s a week in which the writers have decided to make that job tougher than it was last time. Fair enough. Shall we?
News from Wise Monkey – I found this a little difficult to engage with at first. I wanted less exposition and more activity. I couldn’t see what Zack’s issue with Jimmy was, given the little time and apparently innocuous behaviour Jimmy displayed. Is Zack hinting that he believes Jimmy to be a paedophile? Does he believe Jimmy is somehow using his mother? I think more needed to be shown about how those relationships worked. Why is Anne entirely absent? Is that because Jimmy largely ignores her? We can’t know, we never see them interact.
Then again, B.T. Joy does gift us with a compelling dreamscape populated with some carnal and lurid images. The chats with Wise Monkey elevate the story from what looks to be a closeted gay man’s mid life crisis into something far more visceral.
I also love the notion that relationships with men could be intense, even physical. That delivers the clearest window into who Jimmy is, but does so in a way that really tells you nothing concrete or solid.
The hints, the insinuations, and the disconnected quality of how Jimmy thinks and behaves all add to the disquietingly dreamlike nature of the story, and I very much like that this isn’t quite a nightmare. It works, although I still want to be told less and see more, and I’m a sucker for a powerful or uncomfortable image.
Waking Slumber – A week for difficult stories, then, because Waking Slumber is entirely dreamlike. Joseph Devon captures the queasy confusion of not knowing whether you’ve woken up and the grey uncertainty of insomnia.
What’s making my job harder is what I liked about this story is also what didn’t work for me. As the narrator’s dreams repeat, so elements of the sparse narrative repeat themselves through the story. I felt battered by it, oddly defensive, and started wondering whether this was the writer’s device to get me sympathising with his narrator. It worked. Kind of.
I was impressed with the last, poignant, line and this lead me to go back through the story to look at how Jospeh constructs his sentences. It’s nice to see craft in action.
The Verdict – Two very different approaches to the prompt, two strong writers and two good stories. I enjoyed both, for completely different reasons. B.T. Joy’s dream imagery was powerful and really sold the narrative to me. Jospeh Devon’s story was deceptively simple and told with skill. In the end, it comes down to the effect they had on me as a reader.
News from Wise Monkey left me with room to debate what I’d just read, and as many ways to interpret it as I might a dream I’d had. I wanted more from it, but it left me glad I’m awake.
Waking Slumber was slower, stranger, as uncomfortable as an unfamiliar bed. It left me unsure as to whether I was awake.
So I have to give this to Waking Slumber.
That wasn’t an easy decision. Well done to B.T. Joy and Joseph Devon, and thank you both for a weird couple of days reading and re-reading.
“News From Wise Monkey” by B.T.Joy – “The dream drives the action.” I like how this story takes this idea and applies it to virtually all aspects of Jimmy’s life.
The first half of the story is pretty straightforward and does a good job of showing how Jimmy sets his sights on a goal and works at it until he succeeds. From his home life, to his early jobs, then school, a career, and finally a woman he attains everything he wants.
When the title character appears to Jimmy, it seems to be in response to a situation he just can’t win. To me, it’s as if his subconscious creates this dream character to help Jimmy through this. Unfortunately for those around him, Wise Monkey is made entirely out of Jimmy’s suppressed resentment for his wife, her children and his life in general.
Where the story takes a hard turn (and where it maybe goes off the rails a little bit) is how Wise Monkey wants Jimmy to fight back. That his subconscious would want to react with violence against Zack was a little surprising, that he would want to also inflict harm on Alice and Susie was hard to swallow.
I don’t know if it was me but I didn’t see any of this being set up at all during the rest of the story. Jimmy responds to every challenge in his life with hard work and perseverance and now this situation arises and he hardly tries at all before deciding just to wipe the slate clean (and throw everything else he worked so hard for away).
I can see the desire for a shocking ending, and I was shocked, but I needed some foreshadowing or something I could understand better the second time reading it.
90% of this story is excellent and I am not even sure the ending is wrong it just seems like they are 2 parts forced together. I really enjoyed Jimmy as a character right up until the last dream. He seemed like an awkwardly normal person just trying to do the best he can and make the most of what he has. That was wonderfully done. Then he crumbled completely and I never saw the cracks.
“Waking Slumber” by Joseph Devon – Great opening paragraph. There is an almost conversational tone to this story. I found myself reading it out loud as I went almost without thinking about it.
I enjoyed the contrasts between the dying man of today and the screaming monster of yesterday. How the narrator’s early life has set him up to fail in so many ways and no matter how hard he tries he just can’t seem to break free.
I know the narrator has spent years hating, fearing the man who was his father and now to see him so weak and vulnerable he can’t understand it all. The dreams that come and show him his life and all the things he has tried to forget make him even more confused.
The use of the bathrooms and the showers was great. We’ve all had those dreams where you go through your morning routine then wake up and have to do it all over again. Well, at least I have.
The desperation and frustration that runs through this story is wonderful. The line “I never wake up in a good place because I never woke up in a good place” sums it all up so beautifully.
The pacing in this story was well done also. It feels like a man dealing with a major life change. His mind races and then slows only to race off again.
The story did leave me with a question or two, and I don’t think I would have wanted them answered. This is one of those cases where my wanting to know more engages me with the story at a higher level. I wonder if this man is successful in his life or if his father’s shadow has extended into his professional life also. I want to know where the mother is, if she was there and allowed the monster or if she escaped earlier. Did she leave because of the monster or did her leaving (or dying) help create the monster?
Another week where I’m sure you’ve guessed my vote by now, but to spell it out; this week my vote goes to the story that affected me more, “Waking Slumber” by Joseph Devon.
Joseph Devon is the winner by judge’s decision! Congratulations Joseph!
Thank you B.T. Joy for once again stepping into the arena. We look forward to seeing you back someday.
Let’s see what our audience has to say.
That was pretty close, but our audience agrees with the judges. This seems to be a difficult for everyone to pick. Joseph might be the winner but B.T. put up a heck of a fight.
Well folks, be sure to come back next week as we let the genie out of the lamp!