Bedtime Story by Robert J. WiersemaI’ve been meaning to read Bedtime Story since hearing the author, Robert J. Wiersema, at The Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival in 2010 with Kathleen Winter and Emma Donoghue. Bedtime Story, tells two tales concurrently: the first of a recluse-writer and father, the second of the book his son becomes (literally) absorbed in.

It was interesting to have a male’s perspective, as it is rare to have fatherhood on display in a novel. I loved the parallel between the characters in the book and Wiersema himself, who also has a son of a similar age and (of course) is a novelist living in Victoria. The cliché “write what you know” really hit home as Wiersema knocked it out of the park. I now want to read his other novel, Before I Wake.

For novelist Chris Knox, writing isn’t bringing him the sense of fulfillment it once did. It’s been ten years since his first novel was published and his marriage isn’t doing much better. The part of Chris’s life that is going well, and brings him easy joy, is his relationship with his eleven-year-old son, David.

While not a perfect father, their nightly ritual of reading together at bedtime not only helps David overcome his struggles with reading, but is a calm within the storm for them both, when their days are so full of challenges. When Chris comes across a book by one of his favourite childhood authors in a local used bookstore, he knows it will be the perfect gift for David’s birthday. David is less than thrilled to receive a book he’s never heard of before, but once they start reading the novel together, David is completely enthralled, to the extent that he truly cannot put the book down.

The story, of a young peasant boy who is plucked from his home by castle guards and sent on a quest for a mysterious Sunstone, makes David feel like he is right there, in the action. Even after his parents have to take the book away from him, he can’t help but sneak it back to his room. As David is reading alone at night, he suffers an inexplicable seizure and falls into a coma. The doctors cannot determine what’s wrong and as David’s seizure recurs every night, his father learns that only one thing will calm it: being read to from his strange new book.

Chris becomes convinced that the secret of David’s collapse lies within the pages of the book. Meanwhile, David wakes up within the story he has been reading – as the boy he has been reading about – and finds himself facing perils unimaginable. But he’s not alone as he takes over the hunt for the Sunstone; he is accompanied by those boys who have come before him and fell victim to the book’s horrific spell. As the quests of father and son lead them toward a fateful collision of worlds, David realizes perhaps he can prove himself strong enough to survive the book and make it home.

Edited from the hardcover copy, published by Vintage Canada, an imprint of Random House Canada

The task of writing a book inside a book—a tactic that Shakespeare loved, writing a play within a play—sounds daunting and the execution can fail quite miserably. I, however, love the concept, as well as the way Wiersema deftly weaves the two stories together to become one incredibly intriguing tale. I consumed the book in a mere two days—barely able to put it down over the holidays to attend gatherings (I finished it back in December 2012).

Robert Wiersema is an author and bookseller living in Victoria, BC. His prose is smooth, engaging, and easy to read. The sentences flow effortlessly and the story weaves threads through your mind. His storytelling style is very easy to follow but ‘easy’ does not equate with ‘simplistic’—his writing is intelligent and has an incredibly strong voice.

As an avid reader, I immediately fell into the rhythm of the story and Chris’ profession. I suspended disbelief, absorbed the magic realism, and ate up the premise—hook, line, and sinker. It wasn’t until I lent the book to my mom who (a couple chapters in) commented how I seem to like fantasy books and she didn’t. I was saddened by this, as I really thought she’d enjoy Bedtime Story. I found out a couple days later that she’d been reading during the day… she only ever reads in the evening before bed; that’s how much she was enthralled by Bedtime Story.