Life after death is quite the topic for discussion. With the multiple theories as well as the varying beliefs and opinions of, well, everyone in the world, no one knows which theory or opinion or belief is the truth. What if there are multiple truths? What if the truth is nothing humankind has ever even begun to imagine? Out of body experiences, stories of guardian angels, and interactions with ghosts and spirits may be the closest humanity has ever gotten to learning about life after death and writers record this information, hoping that maybe out of the words they write down, a clue to the answer humanity so desperately longs for will be revealed. Readers will believe what theories sound true to them, but renowned author Richard Matheson made a valid argument in his fiction work What Dreams May Come.
Chris Nielsen died due to a tragic car accident he never thought would happen. However, Chris is unwilling to accept this terrible fact, not when his wife, Annie, is still alive. The separation is a struggle for both of them and, though Chris begins to accept the fact that he just needs to wait to see his beloved in Heaven when her time comes, Annie cannot be apart from her husband and takes drastic measures to be with him once more. Due to her actions, Annie’s soul is in danger of being lost forever, but Chris will risk everything to travel to the very depths of Hell if it means saving her.
Matheson was a wonderful writer and he has given memorable titles for readers everywhere such as I am Legend and Somewhere in Time. In What Dreams May Come, Matheson immediately grabs the reader’s attention with his note to the readers before his story begins. He notes that he finds introduction notes in books unnecessary, but for this novel (his tenth), he felt he had to. He had done so much research about life after death to write this book and he mentions in his introduction that he has listed all of the books he used in his research so that, if readers were interested, they could do some research of their own. Granted, Matheson wrote this note in 1977, so the books he researched may be outdated, but even old books are worth looking into.
The story itself is not the good-feel story of the year, but the concepts of life after death Matheson researched are fascinating and, at times, even mind-blowing. He focuses on the different spheres/ levels of Heaven and Hell (as Harry Aderton did in his recent novel Heaven’s Night). Matheson has an angelic figure explain to Chris, as well as the reader, about how reincarnation is how souls move from one sphere to the next in both Heaven and Hell. Now reincarnation is a strange theory that many do not seem to believe in as much (especially those who are more religious), but through his research, Matheson explains reincarnation in a way that really makes the readers think. Going along with reincarnation, he also focuses on soul mates and how, through each reincarnation of life, soul mates will always find each other. These minor details are merely scratching the surface of what Matheson’s story describes, but the research he did is not one that can really be explained.
Since this story does have more of a religious theme to it, some readers may be put off from reading it. However, even if readers are not religious, reading Matheson’s writing style is definitely worth giving this story a try. Like many of the greats, Matheson knew how to play with words and his sentences flow very nicely to form a beautiful mental image for the readers. Not to mention the connection he created between Chris and Annie is incredibly realistic. Though Chris can be a bit of a nuisance to read during a majority of the first half of the story (but then again, who wouldn’t be depressed after discovering they are dead), his love for Annie really brings his character out. As he adjusts to his new life in Heaven, he constantly has dreams about situations when he was alive where he had saved Annie; however, in his dreams, he is unable save her. These, of course, foreshadow what is to come (SPOILER): her suicide. After discovering this horrible reality, Chris does everything he can to save her soul. The actions these two take, no matter how terribly tragic they may be, show how much they love each other. Annie loved Chris so much, she could not live without him and Chris loved Annie so much that he traveled through Hell to try and save her soul from eternal damnation. This almost sounds like a Greek tragedy which most certainly makes for an excellent story.
Of the many books Matheson wrote during his life, What Dreams May Come may be one of his most thought provoking. It is an excellent book to read in book clubs for, upon finishing, readers will more than likely wish to discuss their thoughts and feelings to someone who may also be having those same thoughts and feelings. As aforementioned, it is a religious piece of fiction and may not be for every reader and Matheson’s theories of life after death may not be the ones people are searching for, but just remember: it is a piece of fiction. Readers may take away from it what they wish, but it is definitely a piece of fiction readers should read at least once.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on May 14, 2015.