Your Wildest Dreams Within Reason

By Mike Sacks


Tin House Books
March 2011

Reviewed by Phedra Deonarine


Mike Sacks revels in absurdity. He starts off Your Wildest Dreams Within Reason in the guise of an accountant, suffering every office worker's secret fear: sending a mass email by mistake. This email, complete with pictures, is a fantasy starring him as a talking horse who rules a kingdom populated by his co-workers. Mike attempts to explain the mix-up, but only makes matters worse with his inability to understand why Kathryn Haynes from marketing might be offended by appearing nude and sleeping "with anyone who happens to be available," while "'Betsy Schneider' and 'Krista Starke' from the cafeteria look on in wonder" in this fantasy kingdom.

Although Sacks states in his warning (yes, warning, not foreword or introduction) that there is no overarching theme in his book, writing and publishing do seem to be a focus of his keen satire. Some of the funniest moments in the book involve Rhon Perry—a recurring character who mails letters to famous authors. Rhon complains to Salman Rushdie that "I have yet to stumble upon a really solid gimmick, such as the fatwa you were lucky enough to be associated with for more than two decades!" He explains to Thomas Pynchon that "a blurb is one of those glowing remarks you find on the back of a book's cover, written by a highly regarded author or T.V. chef,'" offers to be Don DeLilo's writing partner and pitches a V.C. Andrews-esque situation to John Updike's family and estate which would allow him to write books that would be published under Updike's name.

He follows the publishing thread with Jessie Kravitz, an editor, who writes a rejection letter to Anne Frank. Jessie offers Anne Frank helpful criticism like,

Readers love to go on a journey—whether it's a divorcee's spiritual quest through India or a journalist's rollicking cross-country road trip to discover the best beef patties. You've written about a young girl confined to an attic for two years. Be honest—which would you rather take to the beach? Exactly: The United States of Hamburgers, now available wherever paperbacks are sold."

Jessie goes on to comment, "we know it's very postmodern to resist narrative closure, but even if you don't want to tie up every loose string, readers like a satisfying conclusion."

Then there's the hilarious "A Short Story Geared to College Students Written by a Thirtysomething Author," in which three college friends go on a road trip to a frat party they find on "the World Wide Web." The piece is peppered with wonderfully out of touch comments like: "Larry did as he was asked, and within no time, Limp Bizkit [sic] was blasting from the nine Bose speakers and seven specialized subwoofers that Larry has installed the previous month," and "'She wanted to thank us for coming to the party. There sure was a lot of vagina!'"

There are too many memorable moments: Shaft living in the suburbs; a rough draft of Rudyard Kipling's "If;" lists of ice-breakers to avoid, and out-of-office emails that might not fly with those in charge. Mike Sacks is enormously talented. He sharply critiques the idiosyncrasies of the everyday world, while never taking himself too seriously. I actually did laugh out loud reading it.