Tom Drury began his literary career as a short-story writer and had many pieces published in the United States’ most prestigious literary magazine, The New Yorker. When the time came for him to try his hand at a novel, he incorporated these minimalist stories into The End of Vandalism (1994), which was enthusiastically reviewed although it lacked a plot. Drury was raised in Iowa but currently lives with his wife and daughter in Connecticut, where he teaches at Wesleyan University. In his second novel he tried to write about the East Coast, and The Black Brook (1998), like many second novels, was disappointing. Luc Sante wrote in The New York Times Book Review:
In “The Black Brook,” detail is piled upon detail, and incident upon incident, in such an even stream that a sense of scale is lost. No apparent logic or pattern dictates the choices. Dynamic and momentum are jettisoned; suspense does not exist. Although there is a nominal plot it does not act as an emotional guy-line for the reader to hold onto.
Now, in Hunts in Dreams, Drury has wisely chosen to return to the land of his roots, but this time his novel seems more focused even though his characters are just as feckless, alienated, and expendable as they were in The End of Vandalism. It is the lack of purpose, the alienation, and the borderline despair of Drury’s characters that appeals to readers if his writing appeals to them at all. Many will regard his stories and novels as “pointless” and may feel like strangling his characters who, like his plotless fiction, are going nowhere. It is just this pointlessness, lack of direction, and absence of epiphanies and resolutions that appeals to Drury’s admirers. He has managed to discover in rural Iowa a microcosm of the United States—a group of alienated, agnostic, consumer-oriented, automobile-dependent, “Wal-Martized” people. Hunts in Dreams is an even better book than The End of Vandalism. Drury deserves the showcasing he received from Granta in its summer of 1996 issue as one of the “best young American novelists” because he has—among his other good qualities—intelligence, style, and vision.
His fictitious Grouse County in the heartland of the United States could become as much of a literary gold mine for him as Yoknapatawpha County in the Deep South proved to be for William Faulkner. In The End of Vandalism, Drury provides a map of the 296-square-mile county that seems intended to emphasize its deadly dullness. Most of it is planted in corn that is used to fatten hogs. Some weedy acreage is left fallow because the government pays big agricultural corporations not to plant. Grouse County is dotted with redundant little farm towns with names such as Boris and Pringmar that used to be social and commercial centers but that are slowly dying because they succumbed to the American disease of “progress.” Other features of this prairie county include the Rust River, the Lapoint Slough, and a number of gravel roads that cut through the landscape in straight lines. Young people are bored to death and are looking forward to escaping to the big cities at the earliest opportunity. Grouse County is a good place to be “from.”
The cryptic title of Drury’s new novel is derived from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous poem “Locksley Hall” (1842), in which the uncannily psychic speaker foretells the unhappy marriage of Amy, the young woman who jilted him for an insensitive but affluent country squire:
Like a dog, he hunts in dreams, and thou art staring at the wall, Where the dying night-lamp flickers, and the shadows rise and fall.
Drury is referring to Charles Darling, whose wife, Joan, feels unloved and who ultimately takes advantage of an out-of-town convention trip to have an affair with her doctor. After this brief fling, she informs her husband and two children that she will not be returning home immediately because she needs time to sort things out. Her seven-year-old son Micah is traumatized by this desertion: His small world crumbles without a word of warning. Her teenage daughter Lyris is not in the least surprised because this new development is the story of her life.
Lyris is the most sympathetic character in the book. She was an unwanted child. Joan gave her up for adoption right after birth, and the child lived in an orphanage and several foster homes before an organization of busybodies called Home Bringers traced her mother through official records and reunited her with Joan. Neither mother nor daughter especially wanted this to happen and neither knows how to relate to the other. If Joan has any guilt feelings, they are not strong. Nobody in...
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