Format: eBook, 496 pages
Publisher: Random House Canada
ISBN: 978-0-307-37430-1 (0-307-37430-0)
Pub Date: November 2, 2010
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Following his bestselling debut, Before I Wake, Robert J. Wiersema returns with this exquisitely plotted blend of supernatural thriller and domestic drama.
For novelist Christopher Knox, getting up early every morning to write isn’t bringing him the sense of fulfillment it once did. It’s been ten years since his first novel was published, to some acclaim, and he’s hit a wall in trying to write his next. His marriage to Jacqui isn’t doing much better, and it’s been months since he’s slept anywhere but his office above the detached garage.
The part of Chris’s life that is going well, and brings him easy joy, is his relationship with his eleven-year-old son, David. While Chris may not make it to all of his son’s ball games, their nightly ritual of reading together at bedtime not only helps David overcome his struggles with reading, but is a calm within the storm for them both, when their days are so full of challenges. And what better way for a novelist to connect with his child than through their mutual love of books, and a bedtime story routine as unwavering as Chris’s love for his son.
When Chris comes across a book by one of his favourite childhood authors in a local used bookstore, he knows it will be the perfect gift for David’s birthday. To the Four Directions is not one Chris has read before, but he knows that Lazarus Took’s adventurous, magical stories of young heroes and other realms would be just the thing for David, as they were for him. David is less than thrilled to receive a book he’s never heard of before, however – he’d been hoping for The Lord of the Rings – and Jacqui is quick to see it as yet another sign of Chris’s detachment from David’s life.
But once they start reading the novel together, David is completely enthralled, to the extent that he truly cannot put the book down. The story, of a young peasant boy who is plucked from his home by castle guards and sent on a quest for a mysterious Sunstone, makes David feel like he is right there, in the action. Even after his parents have to take the book away from him, he can’t help but sneak it back to his room. As David is reading alone that night, he suffers an inexplicable seizure and falls into a state of unconsciousness. Doctors perform a barrage of tests, but cannot determine what’s wrong. And as David’s seizure recurs every night, his father learns that only one thing will calm it: being read to from his strange new book.
True to his nature, as someone with an inherent belief in the power of words, Chris becomes convinced that the secret of David’s collapse lies within the pages of To the Four Directions. After failed attempts to find out more about Lazarus Took from his estate, Chris traverses the continent in search of the truth. Meanwhile, David wakes up within the story he has been reading – as the boy he has been reading about – and finds himself facing perils unimaginable, in a world that he soon realizes was created to capture the hearts and souls of children like him. Because he’s not alone as he takes over the hunt for the Sunstone, but accompanied by those boys who have come before him. And as the quests of father and son lead them toward a fateful collision of worlds, David realizes that while he’s not the first to fall victim to the book’s horrific spell, perhaps he can prove himself strong enough to be the last.
From the Hardcover edition. Extras
What inspired you to write Bedtime Story?
This is going to sound trite, but it really was a dark and stormy night.
I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m not a particularly manly man. Not in any sort of traditional way. When my friends were taking metalwork and woodwork in high school, I was taking home ec. I was, in fact, the top home ec student in my school for five or six years running. I don’t have any interest in cars or guns or sports – give me a good book and I’m happy. I’m not good with my hands, and I’m not inclined to improve. Old dog, new tricks, all that.
This came to a head six or seven years ago. It was one of those Novembers in Victoria where it rains for forty days straight in a month. The house – built in 1909 – was taking on water like a sponge. The roof was leaking, the walls were weeping, and the basement was filling, to the point that it knocked out the furnace and the hot water. Xander was very, very young at that point, so Cori packed up the car and the two of them headed up-island to spend a few days at her parents’ place.
I, with all my manly prowess, was left in charge.
It was a long few days. I was emptying pots of water, and doing things with gutters and pumps and that sort of thing. It was a round-the-clock job – rust never sleeps, as Neil Young said – and I spent the time I wasn’t running around feeling inadequate . . . well, I spent it reading, of course.
I was reading Jonathan Carroll’s Bones of the Moon, which has a very strong father–son narrative through-line, and it occurred to me, with a flash, that there weren’t many books with fathers and sons as a focus. Sure, there are books about fathers and sons, but not much that really seemed to speak to me, in all my non-manly, bookish, early twenty-first-century glory. And without even really realizing it, I sat down at my desk, opened up my notebook, and wrote three words: Father. Son. Book.
Within about fifteen minutes I knew what Bedtime Story was going to be. The book, though, didn’t see the light of day for more than a half-decade. That’s the way these things go sometimes.
Father. Son. Book. It’s all right there.
Did you read a lot of fantasy novels when you were growing up? Did you ever consider writing Bedtime Story as a novel for young people?
I read everything when I was growing up.
As a kid, it was more sci-fi than fantasy, and when I went to university even that stopped. I was an English student, and for a while I fell into the undergraduate English student mindset. Basically, I drank the Kool-Aid and operated under the conviction that genre writing was beneath me.
Cori, the girl I was dating and later married, set me straight. She reintroduced me to the value of story, the worth of a compelling narrative. And she did it with fantasy novels, most notably John Crowley’s Little, Big, which remains my favourite novel of all time (to the point that I have a line from it tattooed on the inside of my left arm).
I never really entertained the idea of making Bedtime Story a book for younger readers. One of the things that interests me most as a writer is the overlapping between two worlds, the domestic and the fantastic. I think as it stands, Bedtime Story would be of considerable interest to teen readers, but they’d have to persevere through a lot of stuff about a marriage in peril, a career in crisis, the questioning of one’s manhood (and of what it means to be a man in the twenty-first century), that sort of thing.
There are a number of parallels between your life and that of your main character, Christopher Knox. What effect did that have while you were writing this novel?
What, the fact that it’s about a writer in his mid-to-late thirties who writes book reviews while his second novel gets more and more delayed? What makes you think there are any parallels there?
In all seriousness: writing out of some personal experience allowed me a grounding in the familiar, which allowed me to focus on the fantastic. At the same time, it allowed me to write about my concerns, without artificially imposing them. Chris, the main character, has a lot of the same questions I do: what does it mean to be a man in the early twenty-first century? A husband? A father? A writer? Bedtime Story looks at those questions in the clothing of a pretty fast-moving story.
This is your second novel about a child who can’t wake up. Is there a connection? What drew you to that scenario again?
There’s a very minor connection, storywise, between the two books (one character from Before I Wake makes a cameo in Bedtime Story, but if you blink you’ll miss him).
It’s not the commonality between the unwakeable children that intrigues me, it’s the difference. In Before I Wake, Sherry is entirely passive, the absent centre around which the story revolves. Her parents protect her and care for her and try to save her.
In Bedtime Story, David appears, on the surface, to be in very much the same condition. His parents care for him, and Chris’s story revolves around trying to save his son, crossing the continent, investigating, putting his life in peril. Crucially, though, the reader is aware that David, while seeming absent or passive, is actually present and active in his own story: while his father is trying to protect and save him, he’s trying to save himself.
I think this has to do, chiefly, with the ages of the children in question. David’s story is a representation of that stage in every child’s life where although their parents are still looking out for them, they’re venturing further and further into the world on their own, trusting in themselves, getting themselves out of trouble. It’s growing up . . .
What character in this novel did you most enjoy creating? Or least enjoy?
I’m incredibly fond of all the characters in everything I’ve written.
I adhere to the idea that there’s no such thing as a “villain,” that every villainous person is the hero of their own story, with their own past, their own motivations. As a result, I have great pleasure in finding out what makes even the least attractive characters tick.
And I love finding characters that the narrative seems to be leading me to. I had no idea I was going to be writing about a former mobster in witness protection, but there he is, and he was a treat to write, a full character in just a couple of pages.
I took special pleasure, though, in creating Lazarus Took, a character drawn entirely out of archives and the historical record. Shaping him through the materials that Chris finds was challenging and rewarding.
Which authors have been most influential to your writing?
Though the influences are different, John Irving, Stephen King and John Crowley.
John Irving’s The World According to Garp, which I read when I was twelve or thirteen, told me that it was not only okay to dream of being a writer, but that there were ways for people like me – quirky, weird, different, whose only ambition was to write – to be in the world. That book told me that the life I wanted – being a writer – could be had.
Stephen King’s novels are, at their best, master classes in writing: he excels at characterization, plotting, suspense, twists, the whole lot.
And John Crowley’s Little, Big? It inspires me, because it’s so damn good. To write something that good? That’s the dream, the inner drive that keeps me going.
You write both fiction and non-fiction. How are the processes different for you?
They’re entirely different processes, from the ground up.
Fiction I have to write longhand, and first thing in the morning. Starting at four a.m., most days. I love that liminal space between night and day, between sleeping and waking: it produces great first drafts, with the internal editor absent and the imagination in high gear. Using a fountain pen in a notebook gives me a direct line between the hazy brain and the crisp page. (Of course, it also means that I have to type everything out, adding an extra step, but it’s worth it.) I simply can’t write my fiction directly into the computer.
I can’t write non-fiction – reviews and such – by hand. And I can’t write them in the witching hour. I need the internal editor, the structure and technological intercession of a computer keyboard. I need to be awake, and rational, and structured.
It’s weird, I know, but it works for me.
Does being a literary journalist affect how you feel when you are interviewed about your work, or when you read reviews of your books?
The one peril that comes with being a literary journalist reading reviews of my own work is recognizing that sometimes reviews actually say more than they seem to be saying. There’s a way to be critical of a book while seeming to be positive, certain key phrases that a reviewer uses when they’re not entirely enthralled. Or at least, certain key phrases that I use in that situation. Seeing one of those phrases in a review of my books – and it’s only happened a couple of times – sends up a red flag.
The other thing that writing reviews has taught me is that every review is one person’s opinion, and everyone comes to a book, and to writing a review, with their own baggage, their own concerns, their own biases. And you can’t please all the people all the time.
Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
I think the only thing a review has ever suggested to me is that there’s a certain peril in what I do. There have been a number of reviews of Before I Wake that refer to the book as religious, or Christian. It’s resolutely not, but it’s set near that world, so I can see – to a limited degree – that interpretation. It frustrates me, but I do understand. It’s a risk, but not one that I’m in any position to dodge.
Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of Bedtime Story?
I think the only advice I can give would be the advice that goes for every book, that I live by, as a reviewer: let go of your preconceptions, and let the book be your guide. I know that some people – who don’t read fantasy, say – might balk at Bedtime Story, but I think if they let themselves, the book itself will take hold of them . . . as all good books do, if they’re allowed to.
And considering that that’s exactly what Bedtime Story is about, it’s a thrilling thought.
If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
Glibly? I’d love to have written The Da Vinci Code. My credit card companies and my landlady would be thrilled for me to have written that as well.
More seriously? I would love to have written Little, Big. It’s a magical book, a book that changed my life, and has become part of it. It’s the sort of book that small religions form around.
From the Hardcover edition.
"Powerful… Bedtime Story is all that it should be. More. It is frightening. It is fabulous entertainment. It is intensely thought-provoking. Above all, it is a hint and a tickle of things to come."
— January Magazine
"About a good book, we say we 'devoured it.' But what if a book devoured us?… In Robert Wiersema'ss Bedtime Story, it does."
— The Vancouver Sun
“Un-put-downable. . . . Wiersema advances his story not through any lyrical flourishes but through masterful storytelling and intricate plotting. The narrative clips along perfectly in tune with the events of the novel, weaving seamlessly back and forth between worlds and times, and drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the mystery and suspense. . . . Bedtime Story is immensely enjoyable.”
— Edmonton Journal
“Serpentine and clever in structure, . . . rich in weird, surprising characters. . . . Enchanting.”
— The Globe and Mail
“Creative and well-written.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
“Fascinating and transformative. . . . The ‘supernatural thriller’ aspect of the novel is well-oiled and keeps the pages turning.”
— Philip Marchand, National Post
“An absorbing excursion. . . . [Bedtime Story] . . . is a genre unto itself, a hybrid of supernatural thriller and sword-and-sorcery fantasy.”
— Times Colonist
From the Hardcover edition.
About this Author
Robert J. Wiersema was born in Agassiz, British Columbia, in 1970, and has spent his life immersed in books. He attended the University of Victoria, where he earned an honours degree in English literature. He has worked in bookstores for the last twenty years, and is currently the event coordinator at Bolen Books in Victoria, where he curates one of Canada’s most highly regarded literary events series.
In 1999, Wiersema began reviewing books for Quill & Quire magazine; today, he is one of Canada’s most recognized and respected book reviewers, with his work appearing regularly in the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Edmonton Journal, the Vancouver Sun and numerous other publications.
Before I Wake, Wiersema’s first novel, was published in the summer of 2006 to exceptional reviews, went on to become a national bestseller and was named a Globe and Mail Best Book for 2006. In 2007, it was shortlisted for the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Before I Wake has been published in more than a dozen countries. The World More Full of Weeping, a novella, was published in 2009, and was shortlisted for the Aurora Award. His second novel, Bedtime Story, was published in 2010, and was also a national bestseller. Wiersema’s first work of non-fiction, Walk Like a Man: Coming of Age with the Music of Bruce Springsteen, will be published in fall 2011.
Despite the success of his books, Wiersema remains dedicated to his work as a literary journalist and as a bookseller. “I don’t envision myself leaving either bookselling or reviewing behind,” Wiersema has said. “I like being a part of the conversation, a part of the ongoing unfolding of writing in this country. I like putting books in the hands of readers, bringing authors together with their readers, weighing in on the books themselves. I’m a lifer.”
Wiersema lives in Victoria, BC, in a house filled with music and books.
From the Hardcover edition.
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