New Yorker contributor Roz Chast is among America’s favorite cartoonists, especially since publishing her acclaimed 2016 memoir about her parents’ decline and death, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? As she notes in I Must Be Dreaming, her dream consciousness is “sometimes irritatingly similar” to her waking consciousness. Cartooning, she says, “sometimes feels dreamish”—a comment paired with a scene of herself at her drawing board, “staring slack-jawed at a blank piece of paper,” trying to come up with an idea. Perhaps it was inevitable that she would write a book about dreams.
Chast dedicates the 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-charts bats.” What could be more intimate? I Must Be Dreaming is, of course, personal, but lighthearted and self-deprecating in Chast’s trademark, inimitable style. She illustrates and describes numerous dreams, such as being shirtless on a bus (“No one cares”); living with a sharp-toothed, homicidal baby (“A SWAT team had to be called in”); and her mother somehow owning O.J. Simpson’s famous glove (“That glove belongs in a SAFETY DEPOSIT BOX!”). Chast, as always, is a genius at mining her life for bits she can exaggerate into comic gold, expertly portraying relatable emotions to her reader. In just a few panels, she manages to distill the essence of her “mishmash” of visions while conveying their utter absurdity. “Surprising!” she writes, in a cartoon showing actor Glenn Close “covered with thousands of baby spiders.”
Between the ages of 15 and 17, Chast kept a dream journal; she did so again much later, after her children were grown up, using the latter as fodder for this book. She begins by noting recurring dreams and themes (tooth issues, being pregnant and old) and uses chapters to categorize them (celebrity dreams, nightmares, body horror). A final chapter highlights dream theory, from Freud and Jung to more modern neuroscience, in a way that’s not only informative but also hilarious. She summarizes her own beliefs about dream science into one of her signature pie charts, noting, “To me, a book without a pie chart is hardly a book at all.” I Must Be Dreaming takes Chast’s legion of fans on yet another uproarious, touching and zany ride. If only Chast could illustrate and explain everything, the world would be a much happier, funnier place.