A girl in gorilla suit strikes up a conversation with a cute country singer after he’s been dumped by his girlfriend, only to end up on the run with he and his mother after bullets whiz by her head outside the Heart O’Reno Casino. Dream On gets off to a rip-roaring start and never loses steam, thanks to a wonderful heroine and some wonderful bits of comedy.
When Bradley Nelson gets dumped in Reno by his girlfriend, a country singer who’s succeeded in the fame game he spent ten years trying to crack, he thinks his life couldn’t get any worse. His record deal is on the line, his nomination at a prestigious awards ceremony is up in the air, and his ex rubs his nose in the fact that he’s going nowhere fast. Stepping off the tour bus they shared, he goes in search of his mother Harriet at the Heart O’ Reno Casino where she works as an accountant. He is surprised when a girl in a gorilla suit, standing outside the casino’s adjacent chapel and watching the entire scene, strikes up a conversation.
Meanwhile, retired IRS agent Harriet Nelson is mighty ticked off to discover bosses are ripping off the taxpayer by underreporting their income. She decides to calculate their debt, steal it, and return it to the IRS before the casino bosses catch on and squirrel away the money. But the bosses think she’s stealing the money for her own use and pull a gun on her just in time for Bradley and Delphine Armstrong (the gorilla suit girl), to flee in Harriet’s much-prized Winnebaga\o. What they trio don’t realize is that the casino is linked to a sizeable drug ring and their pursuers are a little more dangerous than they realize.
Delphine is more than happy to go along for the ride once she discovers her former employers at the chapel where she was working for the last two days have assumed she is part of Harriet’s “heist.” Delphine is an adorable if scatter-brained drifter who bonds instantly with Bradley’s mother over pigs in blankets and grape juice, craving the maternal attention she never got growing up. Her past is a little mysterious in that while she recounts a tale of a happy family life, you get the distinct impression she is leaving something out. Nevertheless, Harriet and her get on like a house on fire, and are soon planning her and Bradley’s dream wedding. Delphine, realizing the earthy connection between she and Bradley is mutual, soon plots ways to grab his attention and hold it.
Bradley, meanwhile, is desperately trying to revive his dying career. He is aware that he must give it the hundred percent his dead father, who never attained the fame he strove for as a country singer, never put in. His parents split up during his childhood because his father never worked a proper job. Instead he obsessed over fame and, in Harriet’s opinion, never truly attempted to have a music career, preferring instead to waste time with his cronies drinking the bear Harriet put on the table. Bradley determines that if he does give up his career, it won’t be for lack of trying. His attempts to break the country music market, in full faux-cowboy mode, are all the more amusing when you realize he can’t tell one end of a horse from the other, hails from Trenton, New Jersey and has a computer science degree from MIT.
He can’t understand why his “git-along-little-doggie” style songs and cheesy “my-baby-done-left-me” renditions aren’t making more of an impact on the market. Delphine soon spots the problem: Bradley is so focused on fame that he doesn’t put enough passion into his live performances and doesn’t connect with the fans. Her attempts to “loosen him up” are hilarious, and lead her and Bradley into many scrapes. Then Delphine convinces Bradley that Faith Hill is her cousin and that he should let her manage his career. The path is set for a rocky journey towards Bradley’s awards ceremony in Nashville, chased by two incompetent psychopaths in a rented RV they can’t operate, and accompanied by an undercover agent who is growing more and more attracted to Harriet.
Brandt’s latest gets full marks for lively, vivid entertainment, some very endearing characters, convincing and well-evinced back-story for the characters, and hilarious action scenes that leave you crying with laughter. The bungling attempts of the psychopaths who pursue our team at the behest of an insane drug queen alone are enough to underline the comic achievements of the novel. Delphine is an adorable heroine who may stretch the truth from time to time, but she has a heart of gold and the best of intentions. The way her own history is explained later on in the novel makes you sympathize with her rather than despise her for fibbing, and she has a lack of inhibition or interest in material things that charms the reader. The way she unashamedly throws herself at Bradley makes you admire her for not thinking twice about making herself vulnerable and was a welcome breath of fresh air. She alone made the book a worthwhile read.
Bradley’s inner conflict as he attempts to choose between the lifestyle he dreams about as a famous singer or the safe, yet boring choice of settling down, was very well conveyed. By the end of the novel, we have watched him take a journey that reaffirms his faith in himself, with a little help from Delphine, who believes in him as much as he once believed in himself.
However, there were a few gaping implausibilities in the novel which knocked the book’s rating a few points. One of the major ones involves the unlikely premise that someone wouldn’t recognize someone they were formerly close to on the basis of them dying their hair and having relatively minor cosmetic surgery to alter their appearance. Also, we are left wondering how many of Delphine’s sketchy lies ever passed muster, and it was a tad too convenient (and therefore not quite convincing) that one of the bad guys turned out not to be so bad after all.
On the whole though, Dream On is a deeply satisfying read and one I will probably delve into again. I would recommend it as a deserving inclusion on anyone’s reading list.