Title: The Electric Coma Dream
Author: Matthew Gillies
Publisher: Flinch Publications
Pages: 323 pages
Price: $18.95 Can
Some books are set in a dystopian future, some inhabit a mythical wild west, and some take place in a galaxy far, far away. The Electric Coma Dream takes place in the world of Carl Jung, turning his symbolic archetypes into literal characters inhabiting the mind of a troubled woman named Anastasia, whose heroin overdose puts her in a coma.
The novel alternates between memories of Anastasia’s brutal life, the efforts of a Good Samaritan trying wake her, and the adventure quest she undertakes to find herself, within the confines of her long nightmare.
The storyline of Anastasia’s life before the coma provides the most compelling parts of the novel. Gillies presents these memories as a series of out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire episodes, some of which are familiar to anyone who has ever had a bad friendship or relationship, and others that are creepily surreal.
One of the early stories from Anastasia’s life features a BSDM relationship that is abusive for real-real and not merely for play-play. That section is an uncomfortable read partly because of the emotional pain that the protagonist endures, but mostly because that depiction of BSDM is overused and largely inaccurate, and the girl’s name is Anastasia. Maybe the reference to a specific best-selling book series that shall not be named (about an innocent named Anastasia and her boyfriend who misuses BSDM as an excuse for being a dangerous creep) was on purpose, but nothing about the lyrical prose of Electric Coma Dream implies tongue-in-cheek. Keep reading though, because the best story from Anastasia’s past comes soon after that episode, and while I don’t want to give spoilers, let’s just say it plays out like something from an odd and gleefully dark (is there any other kind?) Tarantino movie.
On top of the Jungness of Anastasia’s coma world (or within it, because archetypes are archetypes) there is also a significant helping of Alice In Wonderland (made abundantly clear with each new character, then lampshaded, and then sort-of abandoned) and Little Red Riding Hood. The story of Sleeping Beauty is there too, but that’s implied by the entire concept of the novel. Anyone with a soft spot for fairy tales will quickly find and appreciate the references.
Gillies includes everything and the kitchen sink in his debut. On the one hand, it makes the whole thing a bit busy, on the other hand, it means there is something for every psychological horror fan. In any case, The Electric Coma Dream has a satisfying ending that doesn’t leave any story thread untied.
As G.K. Chesterson famously said, “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” Nightmares like Anastasia’s also may be more than true, and can only be beaten by a genuine awakening.