Many of Richard Matheson’s short stories and novels take a supernatural premise and make it relatable through the use of the characters and their reactions to it.
This isn’t the case with Matheson’s What Dreams May Come. The novel is Matheson’s attempt to look at what happens to us after death and while it’s interesting, I never felt like it necessarily connected with me in the same way that other Matheson novels and short stories have.
Driving home, Chris Nielsen is killed in a car accident. After his spirit lingers in our world for a bit, Chris transcends to the next level of being. While he’s content there, he misses his wife Anne and longs for the day she’ll join him on the other side. But when Ann can’t take the pain of missing Chris, she commits suicide, condemning her to a purgatory of sorts from which her spirit can’t or won’t escape. Chris decides he needs to rescue Ann and undertakes a journey to the underworld to bring her back.
There are early passages in this novel that work very well, from Chris’ initial frustration about not being able to interact with his family and friends while “stuck” on this plane of existence. And while Matheson attempts to set up the romance and deep love that Chris and Ann share, it never quite becomes as transcendent as the novel requires. Chris’ grand gesture to potentially throw away his eternal existence to “save” Ann should feel more monumental than it does.
I found myself growing frustrated with the novel at points because, as I said before, Matheson has given us stories focusing on “love that transcends the bounds of time and space” before in Somewhere in Time. And yet as unbelievable as the premise is that a man could will himself back in time to be with the woman he loves, I found it far more easy to suspend my disbelief for that premise than I did for the premise here. Part of it is that I was a bit more invested in the characters in Somewhere in Time (aka Bid Time Return) than I was in What Dreams May Come.
But even “lesser” Matheson is still enjoyable Matheson. And while I didn’t love this novel as much as some of his other works, there are still some good nuggets buried in here.