The Bad Dream Notebook – Review

“That’s what Americans are supposed to do. There’s no excuse for hanging on to negative emotions in this country.”

The Bad Dream Notebook is a novel about grief, loss, addiction and recovery. Erica Mason just lost her husband. Her daughter Mona just lost her dad. Chronic back pain turned out to be terminal cancer.

The book starts after John’s death, with Erica doing community service. Except, it isn’t her crimes she’s doing penance for. It’s Mona’s.

From the beginning, we get the sense of grief Erica is under. Her grief is not just for her husband. But for the daughter she lost as well. Mona is alive and kicking, but addiction has taken her away from Erica nonetheless.

“Living with an addicted child is a form of warfare leading almost inevitably to some form of PTSD.”

Its difficult for Erica to simply grieve for John. She feels guilty for the days leading to his death, as most people struggling with long-term illness do. Did she do enough? Did she make the right decisions?

Those emotions alone would be difficult enough to deal with. But you add in her daughter’s spiraling addiction, which triggers it’s own whirlwind of guilt and grief, and Erica is struggling to keep herself together.

“If one more person asked how she was feeling these blank, black days, she fantasized about turning on them like a wild animal, screaming.”

All of these emotions weigh heavily on Erica, and since she struggles to deal with them consciously, her subconscious takes over. In order to make sense of her dreams, she begins to keep a notebook. Sometimes written descriptions, sometimes fast sketches, but she keeps them in order to make sense of them.

We get the book not just through Erica’s memories and perspective, but we also get a few chapters via Mona. The transition from memory to present is a little jarring at times, and I did find myself having to backtrack and reread to figure out the timeline quite a few times. It could have been written that way deliberately, as a way to show the erratic nature of Erica’s mind and how seamlessly she slipped into memory versus staying in the present. If so, it does give us the jarring effect of how living with the stress of illness, both John’s cancer and Mona’s addiction can wreak havoc on everyone in the house.

We get a very really sense of the difficulty in having an addicted child. Erica displays very codependent behaviors. Some of these are surprising given her own experiences with addiction, but perhaps not so surprising. Mona is her only child. After losing her husband, the fear of losing her child and really becoming alone must feel so big and terrifying to Erica.

“That’s my girl. Mona Grey, their, liar, unemployed – unemployable – dropout, skin-and-bones nightmare of a daughter. Who I produced. My fault. My misery. My little girl.”

It’s true that both an addict and the people that surround them need to hit rock bottom before change happens. Dahl takes us through how bad life can get before that bottom is hit. For both Erica and for Mona. Because it isn’t just the addict that addiction impacts. It effects everyone around them. Dahl captures the horror and helplessness that fuels both of their negative spiraling emotions.

The Bad Dream Notebook is a very raw, emotional journey into the pain that many people struggle with every day. At times infuriating, at times heartbreaking, Dahl doesn’t try to sugar coat the emotions or decisions that both Erica and Mona make.

I did like how each chapter gave us a glimpse into some of the dreams that both Erica and Mona had. They are brief and give us more a feel of the nightmares rather than the details, which I really liked, since that’s how most people remember their dreams. In snippets and snapshots.

This book may be difficult for people who have either struggled with addition, or known someone close who has struggled. It may also be hard if you’re going through any kind of grief. But, this is a book that may also help examine your own internal thoughts and feelings. Sometimes reading a similar experience can help us not feel so alone.

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review as part of FRC 2017!

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