The Dream Peddler is about a traveling salesman named Robert who has the ability to whip up potions that give people any kind of dream they want. He comes into this new town on the same day that Evie and George’s son, Ben, goes missing. As the townspeople begin to distrust Robert and his product, more secrets in the town start to pop up.
I tried. I really did try to like this book. But things just kept piling up, and more terrible things kept happening. Eventually, I realized that it was just a bad idea to have read this book in the first place. It was like a magical realism Christian fiction book, which was not what I was expecting at all. The writing was somewhat fun and whimsical, but the characters were boring, bland, annoying, or just one-dimensional. There were also few-to-no character arcs.
Even though I did enjoy some of the flowery, poetic writing, I almost feel like this story would have been better suited as a short story or novella. 300 pages made it a little long-winded. Nothing really happened in the book. It was pretty vanilla in all regards. In the end, the problem wasn’t the writing necessarily, but the story and all of its characters.
If you’d like to check out my spoiler-section read below in “Life Is But a Dream”
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty. The plot, the characters, their actions, and some smaller tidbits that just didn’t work for me. Lastly, I’ll talk about my favorite part of the book.
The hardest part of the book for me to digest and unpack is the fact that nothing truly happens. Everyone starts at the same place they end. The only exception is Evie, who slightly recovers from her child’s death but that has nothing to do with anything but time being able to heal wounds more than anything else can. There’s a big scene where a kid steals from a cash register and nothing ever comes of it. Jackson gets Cora pregnant, and he never gets found out. Robert wrestles with his grief of leaving his wife and daughter to live this new life, and he doesn’t change or grow at the end. The author might be trying to make a commentary about how nothing ever changes in this town, and no one ever gets what they deserve, but I just don’t feel like that was shown strongly enough. For one, the author stays separate from the narration the entire time, only letting the characters speak their own thoughts. But so many times throughout the book it turns very preachy about porn, masturbation, and the duties of women. I just felt like it strayed too far from the magical realism realm.
The magic was such a side-lined aspect of the book that it felt like it wasn’t there at all. Robert could have been selling inappropriate pictures without magical properties, and the results of most of the book would have been the same. There were so many times where the townspeople seemed like they were going to riot and kick Robert out of their town, but they never did. So whose fault is it really that he keeps selling potions?
I just don’t understand why there’s this mystery surrounding the death of the kid, Ben. The author writers two scenes about Ben as he leaves the house. The story kind of toys with the idea that there might have been foul play involved, as if there was something deeper to his story. But no, the kid was just chasing the moon and broke through the ice into a bay. It was disappointing, especially when the second scene (almost at the end) reveals nothing new. It would have been so much more interesting if someone like Jackson had actually killed him.
Speaking of Jackson, his character confused me to no end. He’s a pretty flat character—just a flirt who goes around and winks at all the girls. But then there’s also this very subtle hint that he might not actually be into women (besides forcing himself on them frequently).
There’s these lines:
“He would buy as many [potions] as it took, and then he would dream of women, only women, each more beautiful than the last. Their beauty and passion would overwhelm him, and there would be no more confusion.”
Later in the story, he tells Robert that the potions didn’t work for him. I don’t know what the author was trying to do with this. Maybe make Jackson seem more sympathetic because he lives in a town where his true self would never be accepted? But in a text that pretty much spells most things out, this aspect is so subtle that it’s hard to tell what the author is going for. Also it’s suggested that he forced himself on Cora? So I can’t really be sympathetic for him…
But most of the love life in this book was like that, besides Rolf and Christina who were actually kind of cute. I hardly ever felt like the husbands and wives loved each other in this town.
I only feel like I can argue this is a negative part of the book, as no time or place was specified in the text. But the moral high ground so many characters take, as well as the sexism and out-dated rules these people follow, are just annoying to read about. I guess the book might have been going for an early 1900s feel, but at the same time, I just couldn’t vibe with the beliefs of these people. Everyone in the town was just the worst.
Then there’s also the fact that new characters were being introduced to the story by the third quarter of the book. I just didn’t have the capacity to remember or care about any of these new people.
The only aspect of the book I did enjoy was some of the dialogue and poetic language. The book has a good flow of words, and I could picture things well in my mind. The problem was that I didn’t like the pictures half the time. Despite my complaints, I did really resonate with these lines, if only because of my move to LA.
“I’ve been to many towns like this one before and known many people who thought of leaving but never did. And maybe if they did leave, sure, their lives would be better, but then again maybe not. Life is a matter of routine, in a sense, no matter where you are. Big city, small town, it doesn’t make much difference… There’s no adventure in leaving, when you come down to it. I’ve built a life on leaving, and I can tell you now, even that becomes routine.”
Life can be difficult when you choose to stay or when you choose to leave. Or when you read books that aren’t in your usual genre.
I don’t really think that reading outside of my comfort zone was the wrong thing to do. Every once in a while, I love picking up a random book and reading it. But I definitely think this was a bad case of reading a book solely based on the cover art. Maybe next time I’ll actually look into a book more before reading it.
Have you or someone who know read this book and liked it? Change my mind about what this book is supposed to mean—I would love to hear your thoughts!