As a form, the novella is not simply a shorter version of a novel or a long short story, something American-born author Carole Giangrande, a committed proponent of the novella, knows well. In a 2014 blog post for Open Book Toronto, she wrote: “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by compression in writing.” But the true strength of this storytelling form is what Giangrande refers to as its “spare beauty.” The best novellas are not overly complicated by plot, setting, or detail. Rather, the stories are both appetizing and digestible, like a perfect meal. Despite this recognition, Here Comes the Dreamer suffers from a narrative malaise that could only be acceptable in the novel form, where stories are allowed the liberty of digression.
Told in three parts, the story begins with Alastair Luce, a house painter who was an artist before domestic distress spun into tragedy. A Canadian expat with socialist roots, Alastair settles in a postwar New York suburb and marries Nora, a beautiful woman consumed by the climate of fear in the aftermath of the Second World War. Nora settles for Alastair, and their daughter, Grace, is forced to suffer the weight of her disappointment.
The second part of the story is told in the first-person from the point of view of Claire Bernard, a friend to Grace who is fascinated by Alastair’s quiet intelligence. However, her childish conceit ends up leaving her riddled with a lifetime of guilt.
The final part, set in the present, is told from the perspective of Grace, now an artist who uses public spaces in the city of Toronto as her canvas, creating “home decor for the homeless.” Giangrande uses water imagery to describe Alastair; Grace, by contrast, is depicted in the language of fire. The damage of childhood loss and regret leaves her in a state of arrested development.
The story has its moments. Giangrande’s poetic sentences are beautiful in isolation, but taken as a whole can feel jarring in their overuse of metaphor and simile. The characters are fascinating, but the changes in perspective create a narrative disconnect. Here Comes the Dreamer feels both overstuffed and incomplete.