Reviewed by Deidre Swesnik (Mali 1996-98)
Dean Mahon prefers another world. At least he did when he was climbing out of a eight-week coma, following a disease of unknown origin that he picked up during his travels.
Mahon had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon three decades earlier, but this was not a Peace Corps experience. Mahon was traveling to Ukraine and Russia for work when he came down with something that the doctors still can’t diagnose, even today. He fell terribly ill and was put into a medically-induced coma followed by months of hospital and rehab stays. More than once his family and friends were told to prepare for the worst.
In The Ride, Dean Mahon describes the vivid dream “world” he experienced while in the coma and afterwards. He captures the misplaced logic of dreams: at first everything is baffling when you don’t know who or where you are; but then you have a revelation and it all makes sense. This happens in the book when a man in one of Mahon’s dreams is “talking” with his mouth closed using no words. Mahon is confused and wonders how he is ever going to understand, but then he suddenly realizes he can understand the man perfectly. He also captures the misplaced time and space of dreams, wherein it’s completely normal to get someplace virtually impossible to be. Mahon makes frequent trips to the North Pole and travels from the USA to Europe in a flash - by car.
Interspersed with his dreams are the emails exchanged between his wife and friends. They are on a roller coaster ride of their own, hoping and praying for his survival. It’s during those exchanges that we learn of the various treatments and procedures that might be what’s shaping his dreams. We learn, for example, that in order to limit bedsores, he is on an air mattress that “ripples all the time.” Light bulb! Is that why he often dreams of being on a boat?? Or the agony he feels in his dreams - is that from all of the painful procedures that his wife describes in her messages?
For the most part, Mahon does not analyze his dreams or draw conclusions about what procedures and realities at the hospital may have induced those dreams. The reader is left to make her own assumptions. I would like to hear more about what Mahon thinks about his own dreams, which are full of Peace Corps memories, childhood friends, and travels around the world.
Mahon yearns for his other world when he is fully back in reality. He has to confront the fact that he’s missed Red Sox games and family celebrations, not to mention major international events. He has to parse out what is reality versus what was a dream.
At the beginning of the book he writes:
“I was also groggy, but this was a permanent state so I didn’t really feel typically groggy. Perhaps spacey is a better way to describe the feeling. I was there, but not quite there. This reminds me of the appropriately profound Pidgin English expression (from Cameroon) “I dey like I dey, but I no dey.” (The equivalent of “dey” is, roughly speaking, “to be here.”)
While The Ride is not a Peace Corps book, there is evidence of Mahon’s time in Cameroon throughout. And don’t miss the part about the goats walking into his hospital room - it may remind you of your own Peace Corps Experience. I know it did mine.
Deidre Swesnik laughed for a lot of her two years in Peace Corps Mali and still does so uproariously with her RPCV friends (and their patient families) at home in Washington, DC. DeeDee is the Director of Public Policy and Communications at the National Fair Housing Alliance, loves to edit and read, and is terrified of writing anything longer than two pages.