When I picked up Between Days by Nick DeWolf, I had no idea what to expect. I’d read his novels but only one of his short stories, and I certainly didn’t know what a collection of dreams was. What I found was a cool collection of tales full of wonder, horror, imagination, and heart.
Between Days is a collection of short stories based on dreams, and it’s notably filled with variety and diversity of thought. Each story has its own identity and an apparent reason for being, but more than that, the sheer breadth of aesthetic is impressive. Many writers have trouble writing anything that isn’t literally inspired by their daily lives or lack the ability to imagine themselves as anyone but themselves, but this book demonstrates Nick DeWolf’s imagination knows no boundaries. I didn’t realize until this collection that what I’ve always wanted from him is a book full of his stories. This book shows what his beautifully unique brain can produce when it is unrestrained and empowered to follow its muse. It’s a wonderful thing to behold, and while his novels are magnificent descents into living, breathing worlds full of intriguing characters and compelling plots, this collection allows him to play with his extraordinary imagination in many different ways.
Between Days is kind of like going to Nick DeWolf’s fro-yo shop where the fro-yo is his imagination and you can stick your head under the spouts at will. Toppings are free. Go ahead and heap them on. Nobody’s going to weigh your bowl at the end.
I think most readers look to stories primarily to take them somewhere alluring and to be with people who are interesting. Nick DeWolf has a creative mind that is uniquely suited to satisfy these desires. As a means of escape, Between Days grants readers worlds and realities to wander and wonder about. Moreover, I think most readers are looking for experience, vicarious living through empathy, when they pick up a book. I think most readers are looking to feel something, and in that regard, I think this collection is full of successes.
One of the things I look to any story collection for is to see the writer trying new things. The best collections are imperfect because the writer experimented. In many ways, Between Days is something of an experiment for the writer and the form. Nick is playing with form, structure, perspective, and much more, but considering the dream aspect—each of these stories is based on a dream Nick had—it’s something of an experiment for the discipline and art form, I think. Most important, though, Between Days is a book of Nick DeWolf playing and having fun with storytelling. Simply with its sheer breadth of wild imaginings, it’s a fun, enjoyable, and wonderful book, even as many of the dreams cross into terrifying nightmare.
It’s a collection that contains the bizarre, uncanny, and surreal but also the more grounded and straight-forward stories. Nick mixes these tales to great effect, allowing the reader to sample from different experiences as they work their way through the book. There’s an order here, and as you read through the book, you start to see Nick turn the prism that contains his imagination, each angle offering something special.
My favorite stories were “Trouvé,” “Harsh Lessons,” “The Witch’s Eye,” and “Death at the Table.” In the first, a young man is searching for himself in Paris but finds his room haunted by the ghost of a little girl who just wants connection and to feel the sun just one last time. In the second, a female servant serves just what her colonial oppressor deserves, and man, this one is satisfying as it rolls toward a tense climax. In the third, a British ship captain shows mercy to a crew of derelict pirates, until one of them accuses him of supernatural abilities that would see him stripped of title and power. Finally, a young couple, living with the spirit of an American Civil War colonel and a baba yaga, invite Death in for dinner when he comes calling.
Each of these pieces is unique. I’ve never read anything like any of them, and I’ve read fairly far and wide. If Between Days has nothing else to offer, it has originality for even the most jaded reader. I promise, if you pick this book up, you’ll find at least some of these stories will stick with you simply because there is nothing else like them out there.
I think that’s all credit to Nick’s imagination. Nothing is derivative. Everything is earnestly created and inspired, and if that isn’t a good reason to try a book out, I don’t know what is.