Review

The Boat of Dreams: A Christmas Story

by Richard Preston



When I was a kid, the Sears Wish Book catalogue was synonymous with
Christmas. Here was page after page chock full of dolls in velvet
dresses, plastic armored tanks, big kid board games, and every toy
imaginable and unimaginable --- the stuff of dreams. It was
probably the Wish Book that first taught me the art of dog-earing a
page of a book to mark something of import, a habit I still have.
For in the Wish Book was all the magical bounty that I had to ask
Santa to leave for me under the tree, that filled my dreams in
those post-Thanksgiving weeks counting down to Christmas. Isn't
that what Christmas is all about: the dreams of children? Children
of all ages, Richard Preston reminds us in his jewel of a book THE
BOAT OF DREAMS. "There's no age cutoff" where dreams are
involved.

THE BOAT OF DREAMS opens with this line: "The hauntings in our
trailer began before Christmas, 1969, in the months after we
learned that Dad had died in a rice paddy in Vietnam." The
narrator, thirteen-year-old Will, lives in a Glidemaster trailer in
New Harbor, Maine with his younger sister Lila and his widowed
mother, Sarah Ann. When William Foster, Sr. died, he left behind
his lobster boat, named after his wife, and his hopes that Will Jr.
would one day man the boat with him.

Life isn't easy for the Fosters. Sarah Ann works long hours,
struggling to bring home an income and refusing to sell her
husband's grounded boat, despite helpful offers from several local
fishermen. Will and Lila spend their afternoons alone, isolated in
the dark trailer, until one day --- on one of my dog-eared pages
--- they return from school to find someone had been in their home:
"The bathroom was steamy, and there was a smell of sweat in it. The
mirror had fogged up, and there was a dab of shaving cream on it;
and there was a hand print on the glass."

The someone we learn later is none other than Dexter --- Nicholas
Dexter Claus, that is --- and he is visiting because "there is a
need in this place ... there is a need for your dreams."

In less capable hands, THE BOAT OF DREAMS could have devolved into
a frightening story for children. The elements are there: children
alone, the death of a parent, hauntings. And, let's face it, even
the capable hands of Richard Preston, whose known for his horrific
tales of ravaging viruses and diseases, might give the prospective
reader cause to wonder what the pages hold. But Preston is nothing
if not a brilliant storyteller, and THE BOAT OF DREAMS has all the
best elements of a classic holiday story, including humor aimed at
children (and the child in all of us).

On another dog-eared page, Dexter (Santa) has taken a spill and
proclaims, "Owwwww ... I think I broke my coccyx," to which young
Lila, upon learning what a coccyx is, giggles and replies, "Dexter
took a butt attack." It's a silly, silly joke, but if you ever have
the privilege of hearing Preston read it out loud, and then witness
the ensuing laughter from six-year-olds and sixty-year-olds in the
audience, you'll understand the charm of this humor and this
book.

But back to the dreams, the crux of this wonderful tale. Dexter
takes the children on a magical boat-turned-sleigh ride and he
teaches them the importance of holding on to your dreams, sharing
your dreams, and encouraging all to dream, too. Instead of
dispensing Wish Book toys, Santa, along with Will and Lila,
dispense dreams: "I'm dreaming they put down their guns all over
the Earth! I dreamed that all the killing stopped, and afterward I
heard the sound of voices telling wonderful stories! I'm dreaming
someone paid off your credit card for you! I'm dreaming you learned
passable French! I'm dreaming you wanted to be a poet, so you wrote
a poem that was actually published in the newspaper. Only one
person read your poem, a person who was thinking of suicide, but
your poem saved that person's life! I'm dreaming you baked a
perfect chocolate cake! I dreamed the Red Sox won the World
Series!" And more and more and more ...

THE BOAT OF DREAMS is simply a delight. It is destined to take its
place among the holiday classics that are reread annually by your
family. I'm dreaming that the entire book will be dog-eared after
years and years of use.

Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on January 21, 2011

The Boat of Dreams: A Christmas Story
by Richard Preston

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 111 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • ISBN-10: 074324592X
  • ISBN-13: 9780743245920