Christopher Knox has been struggling to complete his second novel for nearly a decade, and his family is falling apart. He’s moved into the garage and is able to connect with his son, David, only when he reads him his nightly bedtime story. For his birthday, Christopher buys David a one-of-a-kind copy of To the Four Directions by forgotten fantasy author Lazarus Took. David doesn’t normally enjoy reading, but quickly becomes obsessed with the adventures of the book’s young hero, “Dafyd.”
While reading an especially thrilling passage, David has a seizure. He falls into a coma, but finds he’s trapped inside the novel, forced to live out the hero’s quest. After discovering that reading to David from To the Four Directions staves off further seizures, Christopher is driven to learn the origin of the mysterious book, hoping to understand the nature of his son’s illness.
This is familiar territory for fans of author (and frequent Q&Q reviewer) Robert J. Wiersema’s first two books. His best-selling 2006 novel Before I Wake and the 2009 novella The World More Full of Weeping were both literary/supernatural hybrids about families in crisis, with children at their cores. Before I Wake was even structured around a comatose child. Bedtime Story nevertheless remains fresh.
The details of Christopher’s research into the origins of Took’s novel sketch an accurate picture of the publishing world without seeming forced or overwhelming the reader with unnecessary detail. Wiersema’s straightforward and accessible prose lacks stylistic flourishes, but his characters – Christopher and his wife, Jacqui, in particular – are nonetheless nuanced and fully formed. The characters and situations from To the Four Directions, by contrast, are stripped down to archetypes and mythic structures, a technique favoured by post-Tolkien commercial fantasy giants such as the late David Eddings. Wiersema’s faux-fantasy style is so precise it almost works against him: the transitions back to the more character-driven main storyline can be jarring at times.
As Christopher comes closer to uncovering the secrets of To the Four Directions, the line between Bedtime Story’s fantasy and literary elements blurs, but the story only gets more exciting, and ultimately, more satisfying.