:: Article

Hunts in Dreams

By Sam Jordison.


Tom Drury, Hunts in Dreams, Old Street Publishing, 2015 (first published 2000)

I can’t recommend Tom Drury’s Hunts In Dreams strongly enough. If I carved “READ TOM DRURY” into granite slabs, a ton for each letter, and dropped the lot on your front lawn, I wouldn’t be recommending it strongly enough. If I threatened to have your insides chewed out by rats if you didn’t run out, buy a copy and read it today, I wouldn’t be recommending it strongly enough. If I gave you my kidney for reading it, I wouldn’t be recommending it strongly enough. Honestly. Just go and read it. Don’t even bother with this review. Go on. What are you waiting for?

In case you are still here — although you shouldn’t be, and I’m very disappointed in you — I’ll attempt a few more words of persuasion. Although, as I say, it isn’t easy to do justice to this book. If you stick to simply describing it, it sounds rather quiet and unassuming. It’s the story of an autumn weekend in the Midwest where a family is looking for a few things and going through a few changes. One of them decides to stay away from home for a while. One of them doesn’t know if she’s really part of that home. One of them can’t get to sleep and wanders around the local town at night. One of them tries to nick a family heirloom — a shotgun — from a neighbour.

And that’s about it.

Except, of course, that’s not about it at all.

These small lives somehow start to seem huge. Drury’s clear, sharp and frequently hilarious sentences open up to infinity. Quiet moments explode in your mind like Krakatoa. Take the following:

The bicycle wobbled into the cool air of fall. Charles picked up his drink from the gorund. Micah could not steady the handlebars but kept wrenching them back and forth in the stylized tango of all beginning riders. Then he fell, on the sand by the road. He disentangled himself from the bike and ran to Charles, holding his elbow, on which blood appeared in dozens of tiny gouges. Charles helped him to limp into the house. The boy’s breath came at rough intervals. “I don’t like learning,” he said.
“Learning isn’t so bad,” said Charles. “It’s falling that hurts.”

The perfect pay off. And yet, there’s more to it than a good boom-boom. Stay with it and it grows. It’s not just a small, perfectly formed physical description of learning to ride a bike (And I mean perfect. “Stylized tango” is perfect.) The more you look at it, the more it starts to feel like it could be a metaphor for life. I’m not saying it is necessarily intended as such — just like everything else in the book, it’s full of possibility, and a sense of deeper meaning, somewhere beneath the words on the page.

“Do you know that the universe is expanding?” Joan at one point asks a bartender, of all people. “They believe that the end of the universe, which is so far away in the first place, is getting further away all the time. And not slowly but quickly. I mean it’s moving. While here we sit with our small concerns. Funny, isn’t it? Sometimes I feel like whatever I’m supposed to be is tacked to the back wall of the universe and moving away from me at the speed of light.”

Reading this book gives you the same vertiginous feeling of watching the universe speed away. I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but I do know there’s magic in some of Tom Drury’s sentences. Strange, haunting magic.

Sometimes too, there is more direct and searing insight. Here’s a description of a young boy awake at night:

Wakefulness was a fire inside him, and if he did nothing but lie still, he knew very well, it would soon be burning out of control. Adults seemed not to understand how desperate a child could get being awake when no one else was.

Sometimes though the sentences are just fun:

They walked down the aisle between the pens. The cows moved slowly, as if embarassed about their great size. the hogs lay splayed out on their sides, oblivious.
“They look hot,” said Lyris.
“A pig will look hot in any weather,” said Charles. “They’re just hot looking.”

But here, I’ve got to stop. I haven’t done that joke justice. You have to be there. When you’re in the scene, and you know Charles, and you’ve heard all that has gone before it’s far better than it is here, cut off from its host body, and served up cold. Everything in the book is like that. You can’t take it out of context. If you want to appreciate it properly, you just have to read it. So go on. Right now. You won’t regret it.


Sam Jordison is a co-director of Galley Beggar Press and writes for The Guardian. He teaches a course about novels at Kingston University, is working on a book about literary London, and has nearly finished another about HG Wells and cycling. He lives in Norwich with his family.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, July 17th, 2015.