In his debut novel, The Daydream Society, Evan Retzer sifts through the whirling life of a junkie in the corners of New Orleans. Situating his work deeply in the vein of postmodernism, Retzer echoes the interests of beat literature in particular, through drug use, the cut-up technique, and Buddhism. With that being said, this novel is not just a rehashing of what has already been done; it’s more of resurrection reanimating the beat’s ideas in a refreshing way.
The novel revolves around the main character, Silas, and his group of friends who are drug addicts as well as artists and philosophers. They repeatedly gather together to use various substances and discuss topics such as the works of time, meditation, and the existence of alternate universes. Things get strange when Silas’ friend, Marcel, begins hearing voices screaming in his apartment, voices that only he can hear. Things get even stranger when another friend, Felix, receives a fully mastered record that, according to the record company, has not yet been pressed. Felix contributes this “gift” and the disorienting blackouts which have been plaguing the three of them as a warp in the “linear progression of perception,” possibly caused by a drug that they had taken thinking it was ketamine. The linearity of time gets further complicated by the death of one of the friends, opening up the question of accessing these alternate existences and finding a void in which their friend is still alive.
The use of drugs and the warping of perception complicates the relationship that the reader can form with Silas – which is another nod to the interests of postmodernism. With Silas suffering repeated blackouts and time shifts, it is impossible for the reader to get a linear grip on the events. Every time the narrator closes his eyes, it is possible that the story will continue in a different time, a different place, maybe even a different universe. This brings up the question of whether the novel starts at the “beginning.” In the opening scene, Silas goes from using Cyndi Blue’s obituary in his cut-up project to shooting up heroin with her as she discusses troubles with her charcoal works. This muddles Cyndi’s existence in the novel from the get-go, but these thoughts are pushed to the back of the reader’s mind as the story progresses. However, as Silas’ version of events gets less and less reliable and more problematic mentions of Cyndi are brought up, the reader can begin to realize that it is quite possible that time has been shifting from the story’s start. With how Retzer creates this novel, the reader being able to rely on Silas becomes unimportant. The novel’s intrigue lies in the possibility of whether the narrator is living in time voids or if it is all just a drug-induced haze.
Along with this idea of warping perception and time voids, the story centers around samples from a novel Silas is reading, titled The Daydream Society, a mysterious neighbor, straining relationships, and applications of art and philosophy on life. While there is a lot at work in less than 250 pages, Retzer is, for the most part, able to employ it all in a way that the reader is able to appreciate. Part of me wanted more from the in-novel The Daydream Society and the cryptic Timemaker, but the unexplained aspects of them lend to their intrigue.
The Daydream Society is a fascinating exploration of hallucinogenic literature meeting with a sort of science fiction one. Tripping through the “plastic world” of New Orleans as well as the narrator’s past, present, future, and the many layers in which they exist provides the reader with a perplexing and thought provoking experience. Pair this with Retzer’s vivid prose voice and it’s apparent that this is a book you will find yourself thinking about for quite some time. You might even start questioning the possibility of accessing “the void.”
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