Some books of short stories feel like they take you on an assortment of short vacations, others feel more sublime, like they are taking you away from life itself, into other worlds or realities. Our Dreams Might Align is one such book of delicious fictions that toggle or get close to magical and speculative realms but never leave the country of the heart. Dana Diehl has a spot- on deadeye shot at the bulls eye on yours. And she never misses.
Each story quickly sets up the conflict and main dramatic question. Take the story “Stones,” which begins with these two sentences: “My boyfriend believes in the healing power of stones. I am a pharmacist at the CVS on University.” There it is; you read on to see how these two worlds will collide or resolve not to.
In “The Boy Who Turns Into Toads”, a boy (the first person narrator) tells the readers that he turns into toads at night (yes, plural), and that his teachers have said he “has an insecurity problem.” This story is emblematic of some of the stories in Our Dreams Might Align which set up an unreliable narrator and force the reader to enter the realm of their madcap and heartrending logic.
In “Swarm”, a newly married couple finds the place they are honeymooning infested by tent caterpillars. You know, those ones that seem to conquer forests now and then with their silken houses. In the story, the couple take a calamitous canoe trip down a river then concludes with a near drowning, but the story, at its heart, seems to be about the way nature and wildness rise up around and overshadows their fragile new connection.
Like many of the stories in this book, the stories become about the imagistic and lyric writing itself, more than the characters or the worlds they move in. At the end of “Swarm”, the story zooms forward to a later time, when the caterpillars have metamorphosed: “The last month of summer would crisp the grass, it would shrink the creek, reveal its rocky bottom, exposing sandals lost by the bridge children, crawdad skeletons, a rusty paddle edged between stones. Moths would mate mid-air and lay pearly eggs in the crook of trees.” That’s what I mean by the writing eclipses the story. You sort of fall into it, enchanted.
In Our Dreams Might Align we encounter an accomplished and inventive story teller with a gift for lyric language and dreamscape stories. They seem like spun sugar on the outside, sweetly beautiful and light, but in fact, one can read deeper to see Diehl is working through some complex emotional landscapes. Each one rings true and rings hard.
Elizabeth Cohen teaches creative writing at SUNY Plattsburgh and through Gotham Writer’s Workshops in New York. She is the author of The Hypothetical Girl, a collection of short stories, The Family on Beartown Road and four books of poetry, including What the Trees Said. She lives in upstate New York with her daughter, Ava, and way too many cats. Learn more at www.elizabethcohen.me.