When I was a child, my parents drove us to the shore for summer vacations, and when we traveled over the bridge connecting New Hampshire with Maine, my sister and I took great joy in announcing the exact, ephemeral moment when we were straddling the space inhabited by both states. Daniel Braum’s writing reminds me of that moment: his fiction is a precisely measured balance between psychological and supernatural, dark horror and weird tale, reality and fantasy. If you are a fan of dark fiction and have a hankering for something out of the ordinary, Underworld Dreams is your ticket to ride.
In “Goodnight Kookaburra,” the flora and fauna of the Australian outback is described gradually, like the unveiling of a brightly colored mural. An American traveler on work assignment’s gradual maneuvers through the continent’s richly colorful scenery contrasts with his memories of a mysterious woman whose imagination empties whenever she closes her eyes. In “Palankar,” a man and his brother, who recently abandoned his wife and family, embark on deep-sea dive with the latter’s new companion. As his brother slips deeper into the darkness of the water, the narrator sets forth on a journey where he will discover if his brother is simply suffering a mid-life crisis or if his escape shrouds a much deeper meaning. My favorite piece in the collection, “The Monkey Coat,” begins with a divorced woman’s discovery of a vintage fur jacket in the remaining articles left to her by her deceased grandmother against the backdrop of a series of suspicious deaths in the area. As her inconsistent memory gradually deteriorates, the unsettling nature of the storyline intensifies.
The ten-story collection contains motifs of water, mysterious women, and shifting identities. I did not initially empathize with the characters in each story, but Braum’s writing is so hypnotic that I soon found myself genuinely attached to his pensive, tragic protagonists. With Underworld Dreams, you’ll come for the curious plotlines, but you’ll stay for the well-crafted and precisely sculpted writing.