Anthologies, to me, often run into the same problems that short-story collections tend to fall into: monotony. When stories are linked stylistically or thematically or by content, they tend to wear me out. A great story becomes mediocre when it is stuck between stories too similar in tone or style or content to allow it to stretch its legs properly. The Way We Sleep manages to avoid this while still allowing all the stories to exist in the same realm. Of course, the realm they have chosen is the one between the pillow and your head, so they have a great deal of space to work within. This is a tribute to the great cast of writers filling the pages, but, more than that, to the editors because editing an anthology is no easy task and there is much more to it than checking grammar.
C. James Bye and Jessa Bye structure this anthology of short stories revolving around sleep and beds and dreams perfectly. When it feels as if you cannot handle another serious story, they throw you headlong into a more playful tale or a humorous interview that rejuvenates and makes you just want to keep going. When you feel fatigued by the realism and drama, the next page is often full of magic and wonder, a new bend given to reality. Then there are all the comics in the middle that manage to be touching and powerful but also very playful and readable. This book in other editors’ hands probably would have fallen into the many traps of thematic collections, but, defying expectation and reason, The Way We Sleep pushes on with ease and power and beauty.
There are so many great stories in here but there are also a few that fall short. While somewhat uneven in quality, the book is heavily weighted towards the great rather than the mediocre. Many of the stories are very rooted in realism and never push into the dreamy reality that a book full of sleep and beds would seem to fall into, but there are those stories, magic real or surreal, that break up the every day drama and give us a delightful or emotional journey past the borders of the real. There is a wide array of styles on display but, more than that, these are varied tales. Love, loss, pain, family, sex, growing up, growing old, getting drunk, and somehow they all center around where or how we sleep or who we share that time with, whether it be ghosts or memories or a lover we stopped loving.
While the stories are mostly of a very high quality, the standouts for me were by Roxane Gay, JA Tyler, Etgar Keret, Matthew Salesses, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Margaret Patton Chapman, and Angi Becker Stevens, whose story was my absolute favorite and the one I still cannot stop thinking about.
If you want to find the humor and surreal and magical and onieric and grisly and tragic and beautiful in life and sleep and the spaces in between, be sure to check out The Way We Sleep. You will fall completely and hopelessly in love with these stories. So order a copy, then three more for friends and family.
The Way We Sleep, edited by C. James Bye and Jessa Bye. Curbside Splendor Publishing, 2012. 220 pages. $14.99, paper.
edward j rathke is the author of Ash Cinema published by KUBOA Press (2012) as well as various short stories online and in print. He writes criticism and cultural essays for Manarchy Magazine, and edits and contributes to The Lit Pub. More of his work may be found here.