The Man Who Wanted to Drink up the Sea

The Man Who Wanted to Drink Up the Sea

By Dimitri Nasrallah

A review of The Man Who Wanted To Drink Up The Sea by Pan Bouyoucas

Published on October 1, 2006

The Man Who Wanted To Drink Up The Sea
Pan Bouyoucas

Cormorant
$22.95
paper
225pp
978-1-896951-92-8

When a character dreams in fiction, readers are supposed to perk up and pay attention.

Whether the dream expounds upon or contradicts the novel’s reality, readers are being offered an alternate perspective on the life of the dreamer. As such, every move made in dream-life, every object encountered, is open to interpretation. But pulling meaning from dreams is a delicate balancing act. What do the dream’s components symbolize, and what are its implications on the waking world? Furthermore, what happens if the dream goes on too long? Does the novel risk diffusing the consequences of its waking narrative?

All these are questions worth considering while reading Pan Bouyoucas’s ambitious new novel. The man in question is Lukas of Montreal, a successful Greek restaurateur whose dreams have been visited by Zephira, a long-forgotten potential love he hasn’t seen in over 40 years. Lukas is reminded by one of his customers that the ancient Greeks considered dreams the bridge between the world of the living and the world of the dead. So he concludes that if Zephira is broaching his dreams, she must have died.

Lukas and Zephira, it seems, have unfinished business. Despite the admission that they were no more than passing acquaintances, barely even on speaking terms, young love is stubborn love. And it’s precisely this lack of earnest exchange that tempts Lukas’s curiosity. What does she want to share with him now?

He must find out, and in order to do so he must be able to sleep long and hard, without distraction. Lukas acquires some sleeping pills, tells his wife Yolanda a few white lies, and goes gallivanting around the dream world while parked in his garage, sleeping in the driver’s seat of his car. However, habit has sabotaged Lukas; just before passing out, he somehow turns on the ignition. Unbeknownst to him, the garage is filling with carbon monoxide fumes.

So far, so good. In the first 50 pages or so, Bouyoucas establishes Lukas as a latent romantic whose visions of Zephira could have as much to do with long-lost opportunities as they do with the fact that he’s an expectant grandfather who hasn’t come to terms with his age. The waking-world interplay between Lukas and his wife Yolanda lead the work’s initial premise of escapism the right touch of gravitas. Lukas’s Zephirian dreams are couched in a psychological dimension that lends foundation to the novelist’s accentuating magic realism.

But once Lukas takes his sleeping pill, Bouyoucas largely abandons the grounding counterpart of the narrative’s real world, and instead relies on the dream’s parallels to Greek mythology to carry the reader through. Lukas’s epic dream isn’t so much a Freudian playground (although aspects of it do blatantly tread in that direction) as it is a discordant picaresque adventure in the tradition of Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. In the dream world, Lukas shows no signs of carbon monoxide poisoning or of hanging precariously in the balance. In fact Bouyoucas’s subterrain of dreams often lacks the detailed nuance that would otherwise bring it fully to life. Much of the novel’s initial tension, between a public world of cause-and-consequence and a private world of ethereal irresponsibility, fritters away as the novel’s dream adventure refuses to come up for air.

The all-too-infrequent occasions in which we do check in with the dreamer’s condition come as welcome respites; these brief episodes deftly engage the family turmoil around Lukas’s perceived suicide. Ultimately, this less-considered portion of The Man Who Wanted To Drink Up The Sea is the more interesting of the two stories here. mRb

Dimitri Nasrallah's second novel will be published next spring.

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