Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

David Malouf, best known in his native Australia as a novelist and poet, demonstrates the poet’s fascination with the short story, which has always been the most lyrical of prose forms, in this title story to his collection Dream Stuff (2000). The central themes of this story, common to several others in the collection, are the primitive nature of dreams and the notion that “nothing ever gets lost,” which suggests the writer’s obsession with the past—both personal and primitive. In “Dream Stuff,” a writer, who seems very much like Malouf, comes to Brisbane to give a book reading and is caught in a combination of memory, dream, and threat. Now forty-eight years old, he has come back to Brisbane to find one of his earliest selves, a vulnerable self that never left the place. As a writer, he is fascinated by situations fraught with mystery, for he knows that his own stories derive from some occasions that he has never fully understood. “Dream Stuff” is about one such mysterious encounter.

The event at the center of the story—one Colin says he would have rejected outright as being too extravagant for a plot—involves his being approached on the street by a man who accuses him of having sex with his girlfriend or wife and then slashes his own neck with a knife. The man does not die, but Colin is arrested and questioned, after which he is tormented by his inability to wash away the claim that this strange man has placed on him—a...

(The entire section is 437 words.)