Mike Sacks wasn't sure Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason would ever come out. Though its contents were previously published in highly regarded periodicals like McSweeney's and The New Yorker, it took years for the comedy writer to sell his first collection of short pieces. Unless your work has a common theme or recurring character, Sacks says, most publishing houses aren't interested. If that's the case, then Dreams had the deck stacked against it.
Wildly discursive, Sacks' pieces jump from killer robots to cuddle parties without taking a breath. On top of that, the same criticism often lobbed at Saturday Night Live sticks to Dreams as well: A Sacks piece is usually a riff on one joke and not much more. If you read the first paragraph of, say, "Shaft in the Suburbs" ("Shaft is up early this morning, with a headache roaring through his head like a leafblower at full throttle. Goddamn leafblowers—like they own the motherfucking place...") you pretty much know how the rest of the piece is going to go, without variation.
But if the pieces in Dreams can be called one-note, that note is reliably funny. Just as important, Sacks knows enough to keep them short and to the point. "I don't have to write a book-length or movie-length piece on these ideas; it's two to three pages, in out, goodbye. You're digging straight to the juice rather than just going on for 15 minutes."
Most of Sacks' writing is in the voices of delusional, unhinged people as seen through their emails and letters and Craigslist ads. Though they're too absurd to be depressing, it's no surprise that Sacks' first love growing up was horror fiction. "I was alone for a long time—career-wise and just socially—and a lot of these characters are just people I feared becoming; living off the highway in a one-bedroom condo with a very rich imagination but no friends. These people are delusional because they're spending their life convincing themselves it's not as bad as they think it is."
But the sharpest satire in Dreams is aimed at the publishing industry itself. Sacks is clearly bored with the status quo and he's not afraid to bite the hand that just decided to feed him. One particularly caustic bit is an imagined rejection letter to Anne Frank sent from a publishing house with lots of helpful criticism: "You are a very attractive young girl, and you deserve a more professional photo. Also, smile! Attitude determines altitude... We know it's very postmodern to resist narrative closure [but your] last entry is dated August 1, and then... what exactly? Do you have a sequel in the works?"
In a separate series of pieces, Sacks imagines himself as an aspiring author sending letters to writers like Thomas Pynchon and Salman Rushdie with pleas for positive dust-jacket blurbs and misguided proposals for collaborations like, "[A] 'high-brow' literary idea: A man no longer loves a woman, and vice versa. I think a lot can be done with this."
If Sacks is hyper-aware of how unlikely it was to get his collection published, at least he's not bitter. Even at its prickliest, Dreams is a genial book that seems happy just to exist at all. "This book isn't going to be a huge seller," Sacks predicts. "But that's fine with me. It is what I wanted it to be."