March 12, 2012

Nights at the Dream Cafe
John Mahoney

Long Life -- Nights at the Dream Café is the loveliest book – and most lovingly written – I have ever read.

Accomplished poet John Mahoney (photographed here by the talented Kat Powers) mines 94 years of life lessons to imagine these interconnected, page-turning tales. Each features his welcomed trademarks: imagery as delicately complex as the first falling snowflake; stories woven together with an unrelenting, thoroughly refreshing and completely captivating tenderness; authentic characters deftly drawn from an eager curiosity concerning the varied circumstances and customs of others; and a reassuring point of view shaped by a heart lacking cynicism, an eye focused by empathy and a soul buoyed by the joys of true communion. This book is a triumph.

Nights at the Dream Café is a celebration of human riches: kindness, humility, forgiveness and optimism. Reading John Mahoney’s book is like stepping off the train in Longreach after a long day’s journey, crossing Crow River Bridge, and walking up Main Street toward the glowing lights of the Dream Café itself. As you enter, proprietor George Andros greets you with a warm smile. His wife, Helen, offers to hang your coat and suggests you try the sliced turkey. The young actress Jill Whiting is just leaving as Peggy Hicks breezes inside behind you. Nan Ulrich is seated at the piano, playing a gentle tune. Franz Scheff and Luigi Toscano are nearby, accompanying Nan with their mandolin and accordion. Eddie Hartnett and Virginia Woods sit across from one another in a booth, laughing at a shared secret. Tom Gibbs sees you enter and, even though you are new in town, invites you to join him and Peggy at their table. As you take your place, Tom says, “There are no strangers at the Dream Café. Tell us friend: What’s your story?”

And you realize – even though you are meeting all of these people for the first time – you are home. What’s more, you are destined to return to the Dream Café, night after night, hungry for more good company, another fine meal and the evening’s new story.


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