Book Review: The Dream Shelf by Jeff Russell

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WITH THE DREAM SHELF, Jeff Russell has written the novel I would have loved to write.

The concept is compelling, and it borders on being brilliant.

Sam, his protagonist, is a lot like the rest of us.

He knows his father.

But he didn’t really know him.

And now it’s too late.

Sam is haunted by regret, perhaps even guilt.

Russell’s prose perfectly captures the mood and poignancy of the story when he writes of Sam looking down at the grave of his father: “One wife. One Child. Hard Worker. Loving Parent. That was it – his father’s story told to the world – brief, simple, tragically incomplete. The rest of the epitaph belonged to the missing years … “

Sam is faced with a mystery that burrows deep into his consciousness and will not leave him alone.

He is determined to track down the missing years.

Putting flesh and blood to the past may become his most valuable inheritance.

What secrets did his father possess?

Where are the pictures of his life?

Where are the remnants of his past?

What were his dreams?

All he left behind had been placed on a solitary shelf: a book, a trolley car, a framed quote, a plaster bust of Galilio.

What did they mean?

And what secrets did his father carry to his grave?

Sam begins a precarious journey into the great unknown of a man’s hidden past, and he has no idea what, if anything, he will find.

He’s not looking for answers.

He’s searching for his father.

He wants to put the missing pieces and the missing years of the puzzle back together again.

The journey begins in earnest when he discovers an old yearbook tucked back among his father’s belongings. It is packed with old government documents, with names, with hints of the Manhattan Project.

Sam knew his father had served in World War II.

But had he helped develop the atomic bomb?

Sam’s quest will not be denied.

But is he finding more than he wants to know, more than he needs to know?

The secrets are dark. They have been buried a long time. They had been the torment of one man’s conscience. The Dream Shelf hides them all.

Grief and determination drive Sam on even when he’s convinced he should quit. Along the way, he learns he possesses the same resolve, the same resilience, the same integrity that his father had.

Jeff Russell is not only a great writer. He is a first-class storyteller, artfully weaving the present with the past, linking together the stories of both father and son with love and understanding, bonding them in a way they had never been in life.

I read The Dream Shelf and, when I had finished, the story seemed far more fact than fiction.

Did it really happen?

Could it have really happened.

I will always believe it did, and I know the story will stay with me for a long time.

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