The Route Book at Bedtime, edited by Ian Daley, is a collection of short stories unified by escapism, hope and, like reality, dreams that often fall apart. The collection is a palpable reflection, through theme, of human fantasy.
It opens with Crush, by Pippa Griffin, a tense story about a teenager and her attraction to her ex babysitter. Instead of Crush morphing into a sinister tale about the relationship between a teenager and an adult, Crush is about how the unknown and unobtainable sparks the imagination only for reality to subdue it. So Which is the Way From Here?, by Chris Hill, and Tragedy of the Commons, by Louis Malloy, follow and carry a similar tone. They both centre on characters trying to meet the needs of another. Imagination Avenue, by Cally Taylor, is the first story about adults recapturing or remembering the playfulness of youth, which is a subject that recurs all through the rest of the collection.
Naturally, hope is an element that spreads throughout the Route Book at Bedtime. Tragedy of the Commons and Crush are stories driven by it, and they explore it spectacularly. The characters in both tales believe that their dreams, when realised, will be as good as they’ve hoped for. The eventual bliss achieved in Imagination Avenue and The Parrot, by Sam Duda, satisfies the characters in these contributions and make for two of the brightest tales in the book. Escapism through dreams, memories and physical action occurs in many of the stories and is especially prominent in A Modern Adventure, by Michael Nath, where the protagonist leaves his group on a holiday to enjoy what its title implies. Leaving, by Sarah Butler, sees its protagonist escape from the confines of their relationship so they can dream, and Smoke and Dust, by M Y Alam, has its main character revisit memories of his dying father to better cope, as well as escape, from his dad’s terminal condition.
Just like how dreams often are, the writing in the Route Book at Bedtime is quite sparse. The writing styles and quality don’t vary wildly, which is a common issue in short story collections featuring different authors. Thankfully, the Route Book at Bedtime doesn’t suffer from this, yet there are still stories that standout more than others in the way of writing. Wayne Price’s The Golfers is one of them. The writing in it is meticulous, and although it may not be the most entertaining story in the collection, the impressive way in which Price sews words together gives his characters a real life quality. M Y Alam’s use of dialogue in Smoke and Dust also stands out and makes the story’s tough approach on love and sadness work, and because of this the saddening events that occur in it are easier to take in but still emotive. Chris Hill and Dave Pescod, along with Pippa Griffin, bring some of the funniest moments in the book through their writing, while Pescod’s depiction of the father in Scalp makes the character an easy favourite.
The Route Book at Bedtime is a concise collection tied together by its themes, and the stories in it are inspired by the sensitive thoughts that occur to us before, or during, dreams. All twelve authors featured in the book have crafted stories that have allowed Route to deliver everything intended when putting this collection together, making it a soothing read that can be enjoyed at any moment.
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