The Dream Years

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Ever since World War I, Robert St. Onge has tried his best to avoid adulthood. He shuns work and spends his time wandering around Paris or sitting in cafes with fellow members of The Bureau of Surrealistic Research. Although he hopes to become a novelist, his bad case of writer’s block is not helped by constant reminders from his friend Andre Breton that novel-writing is a bourgeois, antirevolutionary activity. Robert’s uneventful existence is radically changed when he catches a glimpse of a beautiful woman through a cafe window. Rushing outside to meet her, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a student riot in the Paris of 1968. Throughout the rest of the novel Robert, and later Breton and the others, are transported back and forth in time from the 1920’s to the 1960’s, Breton to discuss revolutionary strategy with the students, Robert to pursue the unknown woman.

This ingenious premise allows Goldstein to tie together several key concepts of surrealism, notably the idea of l’amour fou, a passion that transforms every aspect of life, and the belief that imaginative art can be a revolutionary force in society. Unfortunately, she makes little attempt to explain these ideas, and those readers unfamiliar with surrealism or with the student movements of the 1960’s may miss the point of the book altogether. Also, part of the fun of THE DREAM YEARS--often, in fact, the whole point--is catching brief glimpses of famous people: Bricktop, Antonin Artaud, or Kiki of Montparnasse. Not all readers will recognize these names, however, and again the author does not give the reader many clues. For a reader with the right background, this book will be a real find, thoroughly entertaining and provocative. Others may find it to be merely a tedious and confusing science-fiction novel.