There’s something more than a bit misleading about the title of The Dash, C.J. Duarte’s massive, 716-page surreal fantasy, the first of a two-part novel. The story’s pace is slow and methodical, the action delivered in long, drawn-out doses. The scope is worthy of Thomas Pynchon in its sheer size, and Duarte seeks to build an intricate, complex universe.
It’s one that could very well be part of a dream. In the short foreword, the story’s most literal part, Duarte describes one horrendous morning in the life of Claire, an aspiring writer who works as a “cash supervisor.” She’s overslept for work, and a gang of “dark-suited agents” bust into her apartment to make her answer for her tardiness. Instead of owning up to her absence, Claire exits her apartment via the upper-story window.
Then the surrealism starts. She awakens in another world, a town called “Cloak Valley,” replete with its own cast of characters. Her first contact is Art Rukin, a handsome protagonist who serves as her guide through the new setting and later, as her romantic interest.
Duarte proceeds to paint an exhaustively detailed picture of Cloak Valley and its denizens. The Smith Family, an eerie and twisted tribe, is just the first in a growing cast of ambiguous baddies that includes the CEO of a fictional corporation named Byron Zolltech. The author details Cloak Valley’s Catholic school, discount stores, holidays and more, as Claire and Art look for answers that never come.
The vast majority of the story is devoted to superfluous descriptions. Most disappointing is the absence of any resolution. After an exhausting 700-plus pages, the story lacks any substantive answers about the nature of the vision or the reality of Cloak Valley. Instead, readers are left with the vague promise of resolution in a future volume. After wading through so many unnecessary descriptions and scenes, readers will find the prospect of tackling a continuation too daunting to consider.