What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson is a story of the afterlife, taking place in the next world. When our main character, Chris, passes on to the other side, he’s still too attached to his beloved wife, Ann, to let her go. This causes her much suffering, as his presence only intensifies Ann’s awareness of her husband’s absence, and her grief for him. To end her sorrow, Ann commits suicide, leaving her and Chris’s grown children behind.
But Chris is devastated to discover that, instead of being reunited in heaven together, his wife’s tragic actions have condemned her to her own self-made hell, where she continues to mourn her husband and will be unable to see, hear, or recognize him, even when he presents himself to her. Despite his spiritual aides’ warnings that those who traverse to hell never return to heaven, and that his wife will never recognize him again for eternity, Chris braves the journey into the fiery pits of hell to save her.
Alongside the plot, Matheson weaves an intricate backdrop of the afterlife, a place namely controlled by the mind and by one’s beliefs, much physically freer than our living world, but still with its own rules and natural laws. This is not a religious book, and Matheson’s interpretation of the afterlife is more “new age” or metaphysical (c.f. the sources he lists in the back of the novel). A fascinating read, a beautiful love story, and – I might add – quite different than the film.