Joel's Reviews > A City Dreaming

A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky
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Nov 01, 2016

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I like Daniel Polansky. I own hard copies of all of his books, including multiple printings of some. There's just SOMETHING about his prose and style that speaks to me, something that I always seem to come back to.

However, this book is certainly inconsistent, in almost every way, with his previous works. A City Dreaming is an odd piece of magical-realism, kind of a schizophrenic Vonnegut-meets-Kerouac-meets-Lewis Carroll. It follows M, a degenerate substance abuser with some magical ability, as he is drug into a fairly large-scale conflict in NYC. He is required to use his entire band of equally-semi-magical friends and degenerates, as well as an oddly large cast of ancillary characters, who vary wildly in quality and usefulness.

The novel starts out well - M is an interesting character, someone I can sadly relate to in some ways, and his cast of friends are equally colorful and interesting. However, I almost immediately started to tick off little annoyances with the story, prose points, and characters. In spite of that, for the majority of the first 2/3 of the book, it was a total page-turner for me, and I was hooked on it. As the book progressed, however, some of the minor and major annoyances started to be a real detriment for my enjoyment of the book.

The first, and major, issue I took was simply how self-indulgent the novel is. Knowing the limited amount I know about Daniel from social media, I can't help but feel like M is either a manifestation of Daniel himself, or at least an idealized version of what he wants to be, or thinks he is. There just feel like a lot of similarities there. Additionally, there was an egregious amount of drug and alcohol references, far past the point necessary even to represent the nature of the characters. I am a massive beer geek and will talk about it for days, but if I read "Belgian beer" or some iteration of it one more damn time in this book, I was going to throw it against the wall. Probably close to 20 oddly specific references to beer, mostly Belgian beers, in a relatively short book. As if Polansky was going "look guys, I'm a beer geek!" It came across less endearing, and more obnoxious for my taste. Polansky certainly doesn't shy away from alcohol and drug use in his other novels, however he handled it in a much more proficient way in those, rather than an excuse to make references to show off his knowledge or preferences.

The second major issue I took was just how scattered the novel was. I used "schizophrenic" in an earlier paragraph, and I think it's an apt comparison. I was never really sure what the main point of the story was - is it a memoir of M? Is it a novel about the magical NYC? Is it the various underlying messages that he was trying to push forth? I was never really sure. On top of that, there is not a lot of direction - there are long stretches of M and Co. completing arbitrary tasks, introducing a massive amount of nothing side characters. So while Boy, Andre and the other main side characters were interesting and at least somewhat complex, the pieces that come-and-go were much less so, and often felt hollow.

In spite of most of this, I did enjoy big chunks of the novel. As I said, it had a bit of an IT factor that kept me interested, and enough going on to motivate me to rapidly crank through the pages. However, I found the end to be a bit disappointing compared to the rest of the book, though oddly fitting to feel kind of scattered and incomplete, considering how the rest of the story was presented. I feel like I either understand what Polansky was going for and think he missed the mark, or I'm just too unintelligent to understand the complexity and symbolism used, and I am the problem here. Regardless, all I can judge by is my impressions, and while this isn't going to dissuade me from reading future Polansky, it certainly made me long for more of his traditional fantasy work.
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Reading Progress

May 28, 2016 – Shelved (Other Hardcover Edition)
May 28, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read (Other Hardcover Edition)
October 22, 2016 – Started Reading
October 22, 2016 – Shelved
October 22, 2016 – Shelved as: audiobooks
October 23, 2016 – Finished Reading
October 24, 2016 –
page 50
19.53% "It's alright so far, but it's been a very self-indulgent excuse for Polansky to show off his beer drinking knowledge - I've counted 6 specific beer references so far (belgian stout, Brooklyn Lager, Westvleteren, etc). That particular aspect comes across a hair cheesy to a guy who knows beer.\n\nThe rest of the story is fun so far though."
October 27, 2016 –
page 175
68.36% "While still a tad self-indulgent, I am actually finding myself really enjoying this book. It's a bit scattered, but it seems entirely intentional. Almost a Vonnegut-meets-Carroll kind of thing going on. I can't quite even put my finger on exactly what about it I'm enjoying, but I'm turning pages pretty rapidly."

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