Meandering labyrinth of a story about a New York advertising executive who leaves his job in the city to write poetry in a hut by the sea. Although entranced by the ocean and the miles of sand and the salt marshes, David finds himself caught in the coils of his attraction to two women: Hilda, "the mate to his flame, the answering spark," but despairing and fragile (and married), and Scarlet, seductive and available (but morally rotten). Hilda's husband is a sadistic libertine whose subtle cruelties are slowly killing his wife; a situation that so unsettles the poet's wits that he falls prey to a heavily symbolic dream obsession.
Smith successfully establishes a surreal voice and includes wonderful passages describing the mad moods of the sea and notes and observations about life and the hereafter, all waiting to be discovered sparkling in the sand throughout the story. The ax of a sharp and discerning editor might have turned Smith's efforts into a compelling Gothic romance, but, alas, the story gets lost in a shifting fog of dreams and fantasies, and never emerges fully formed.
Dream's End is a radical departure from Thorne Smith's humorous novels, and was, in fact, Smith's first book rejected by publishers until his Topper novels became successful. Fans of Thorne Smith are likely to be intrigued by this book for its gothic nature and for an unexpected glimpse at a more serious side of the author.
"The sea looks clean and bright. One would swear that it had been but freshly painted. Like a sparkling surface of electric blue, it arches across the world to a sharp horizon now clear of clouds and mist. One would like to run shouting over that painted floor and become intimate with space."