Eric Arvin’s Terms We Have for Dreaming has been published posthumously by Dreamspinner Press and is a novel unlike any other I have read. The story’s complexities and Arvin’s sophisticated writing style meant that at times I struggled with reading and though Terms We Have for Dreaming is only 272 pages, it felt like much longer.
Generally, I begin my reviews here with a summary of the story’s plot, however Terms We Have for Dreaming is so intricate and involves a number of characters, each with their own context and motivation. The world that these characters live in is dominated by the sight of GOD’s tower, watching over all of those who inhabit the rings of the Immortal City. However, this GOD has nothing to do with religion and justice. Arvin’s GOD is soulless, cruel, unforgiving, and a tyrant. GOD is supported by some, though mainly the wealthy who are able to retain their way of life by being obedient. Those GOD sees as sinners are captured by his ferrymen and taken away in death wagons to the terrifying ninth ring.
When the uprising comes, it is led by “hero” Gemma Kerr and the popularly appointed Queen Rose, who are guided, not by GOD, but by the visions Gemma sees in her dreams. Yet, their journey will be a dangerous one on which people will die and their chance of success is small.
Arvin does not shy away from topics that other authors may approach with caution. This means that Terms We Have for Dreaming includes scenes of torture, death, rape, violent physical abuse, and other gut-wrenching acts.
Terms We Have for Dreaming is GLBT+ fiction in the broadest of terms. There are brief scenes of homosexual romance, but this is not the story’s main focus. Ultimately, this is a novel about a group of individuals seeking freedom from an autocratic leader. Though Terms We Have for Dreaming has been published following Arvin’s death, the message the author sends will resonate with many readers who are concerned about the current international political situation. This fictional individual called GOD orders an equally depraved Senator General to round up anyone they see as deviant, which can be sexually, physically, or otherwise, indiscriminate of age or gender. For the reader, this is frightening and hard hitting, especially with daily news stories about gay men being sent to death camps and citizens of first-world countries in danger of losing basic human rights.
Terms We Have for Dreaming is written in third-person present tense, using an omniscient narrator only known as “we.” I found this especially destabilizing and it also increased my discomfort about the subject matter. However, in using this “we,” Arvin is able to jump from character to character, revealing the true bleakness of the Immortal City and the harshness that many of these individuals endure. Not all of the characters Arvin focuses on are those we would consider heroes either. Cayden Lothair is one of GOD’s best ferrymen; Mags Hensil is a Sister of GOD; Esther Kerr may be Gemma’s mother, but is also one of the revolutionaries who brought GOD to power, and Deidre Maire is in charge of the hospital in the ninth ring. Yet, whilst Arvin is able to make his reader hate and feel genuine anger and disgust, we also love the bravery and resilience of other characters like Gemma, Rossa, Tully, Key, Lawl, and Duncan. It is these men, women, and children who are able to change the atmosphere of this novel, bringing hope and laughter.
I may have found Terms We Have for Dreaming a difficult read in places, but Arvin’s novel was still compelling, gripping me until the very last page with various twists and turns, leaving me shocked and feeling a range of emotions. The strength of Arvin’s words and his metaphorical way of writing will stay with me for a long time and feel that this story will touch other readers in a similar way.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.