I Must Be Dreaming

Image of I Must Be Dreaming
Release Date: 
October 24, 2023
Bloomsbury Publishing
Reviewed by: 

I Must Be Dreaming is your ticket to the dreamland of a genius.”

Roz Chast’s latest book, I Must Be Dreaming, might encourage sleep, but that is not to say it's tranquilizing. It is as lucid and enlivening as graphic narrative gets. Chast, as a cartoonist, is perfectly positioned to articulate even the most banal dreams in interesting and often hilarious ways. Her familiar parakeets, aliens, hairstyles, and lampshades pass easily through the veil. The book strikes a good balance between Chast’s actual dreams and dream theory, quoting psychoanalyst heavy hitters, philosophers, and modern-day dream experts, often rather tongue in cheek.

Right up front, Chast addresses a commonly held belief that dreams “as a conversational topic should be avoided, along with aches and pains.” However, Chast boldly commits this social faux pas as only an artist and author of her caliber may do with such a high degree of success.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1954, many of Chast’s dreamscapes capture familiar features and places of the city. As a teen Chast kept a dream journal, a practice she returned to later in life. And as an occasional sharer of her dreams, Chast keeps copies of dream-divulging emails written to friends and family. From this material past and present, Chast has created a whole book of her own dreams sectioned by theme: dreams that are recurring, lucid dreams, celebrity dreams, nightmares, “body horror” dreams, dreams about food, etc. It is noticeable that Chast left out sex dreams; the closest she comes to that involves mostly platonic cuddling with Danny DeVito.

The images in I Must Be Dreaming are classic Chast, hilarious renderings of the subconscious. The narrative is carefully honed with great attention to short attention spans—that is to say Chast knows how to talk about her dreams without being boring (everyone take a lesson!) And the dreams are not too cleaned up or explained. “Dreams remain a mystery,” says Chast, as she delves into Freud and Jung, supposing also that “maybe dreams are a way to connect us with the collective unconscious.”

The appeal of Chast’s books, it seems, is in their exquisite everyday observations: life in the city, aging parents, social anxiety, potato bugs, taking joy in small things. There is a certain delight in reading Roz Chast because we trust her as our main spokesperson of the absurd, which obviously applies to dreams.

Chast has done her research on her book’s subject. As a student of life, or merely as a curious rascal, Chast wonders about her brain, and dedicates this book to “The Dream District of our brains, that weird and uncolonized area where anything can happen, from the sublime to the mundane to the ridiculous to the off-the-chart bats.” Instead of weaving in a ton of dream theory, Chast saves most of it to the end in a separate chapter, “A Brief Tour Through Dream-Theory Land” and for our further edification, she incudes a recommended reading list.

Isn’t it odd that we’ve all had that “out in public without pants” dream, or the one where all your teeth fall out? Roz Chast has had these very same dreams! It feels as if we are forming a kinship between subconsciouses; it is a beautiful, dreamy thing. The only problem is that it’s impossible to get enough Chast. And she is one hard working person—New York Times bestseller with a very long list of achievements and accolades, regular contributor of comics in the New Yorker since 1978, and her charming and exquisite needlepoint stirs up a frenzy among her more than 80,000 Insta followers.

It may be a pipe dream then, to wish for a thicker, more intensive volume from Chast on this topic. Perhaps we should not look a gift horse in the mouth, or else risk having nightmares about one chewing up our reading glasses. It must be enough to have a peek into this author’s dreamworld and return again and again to the text and the cartoons for new observations (it’s even funnier on the second read).

Chast does travel well in her dreamworld. Sometimes little pieces of bizarre wisdom leak through along with bits of language and ideas for her comics. On occasion, the dead appear as themselves or cast in bizarre dream roles. Chast’s deceased parents show up. Henry Kissinger stands in as her dentist. Amid the comic relief, there is profound vulnerability and anxiety playing out in weird and wild scenarios. Each dream sequence opens the doors to Chast’s private dream cinema: “I was in Manhattan and saw Fran Leibovitz . . .” or, “A baby from the future came to live with me,” or “once again I have lost my purse . . .”

As tempting as it is to analyze, it’s more fun to go along for the ride, which is kind of Chast’s point: “There are no experts. Yes, there are people on the internet who are happy to tell you how to ‘optimize’ your dreams. What a stupid idea. The whole point of dreams is to see where they take you.”

I Must Be Dreaming is your ticket to the dreamland of a genius. Go willingly.