Reviews > Published on September 16th, 2014

Bookshots: 'The Anatomy of Dreams' by Chloe Benjamin

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Anatomy of Dreams

Who wrote it:

This coming of age narrative is already one of uncertainty, questions, and discovery. By placing it against the backdrop of a dream world, the reader gets double the tension.

Chloe Krug Benjamin

Plot in a Box:

The Anatomy of Dreams is told from the perspective of Sylvie Patterson, beginning with her teenage years at Mills, a boarding school in Eureka, California, following her to age thirty. While at Mills, she meets Gabe, another student, and falls in love with him. After Gabe mysteriously disappears during their senior year, he shows up in Sylvie’s life again, first in her dreams and then in reality, while she’s attending university in Berkeley. He urges her to join him in the research he is conducting with Dr. Adrian Keller, the former headmaster at Mills and the reason Gabe left without saying goodbye. Gabe explains that Keller is studying dreams and consciousness, and attempting to teach patients with sleep disorders to lucid dream and better protect themselves. The pair spend the next six years following Keller from Fort Bragg to Martha’s Vineyard, and finally to Madison, Wisconsin, where they fall down the rabbit hole of Keller’s work...perhaps, too far down the rabbit hole.

Invent a new title for this book:

Please Return if Found Dreaming

Read this if you like:

Mystery novels, but you want to try something a little different.

Meet the books lead:

Sylvie Patterson, a level-headed realist who gets swooped up in research, which she starts to question over time.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Younger Sylvie would be played by Chloe Grace Moretz, and adult Sylvie would be played by Brie Larson.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

The novel travels through the following cities: Eureka, CA; Madison, WI; Berkeley, CA; Martha’s Vineyard, MA; Fort Bragg, CA; and Seattle, WA. I’ve lived in Seattle and it is beautiful. My next pick would probably be Berkeley.

What was your favorite sentence?

It was clear that couples speak with their bodies, not just their voices; that the body is confused in its allegiances; and that, sometimes, the body betrays the mind of its owner in order to communicate something to the partner—an insurgent rushing across party lines with a letter in hand.

The Verdict:

We all dream. Sometimes we remember bits and pieces of them, and they float around in our heads like memories that may or may not be ours. What if we could use the time we spend dreaming to our benefit, to change our realities for the better? This idea is at the center of The Anatomy of Dreams. As someone who has tried again and again (without success) to achieve lucidity, tapping into the dream world intrigues me. However, for Sylvie Patterson, the novel's protagonist, this compelling thought becomes more and more disconcerting as the story progresses.

Benjamin’s narrative is non-linear, and while I can appreciate this form of storytelling, I was not sure why it was necessary in this case. I wanted to stay with each storyline until it resolved, so when a chapter cut off and jumped to another time and setting, I felt disoriented. Thom and Janna, Sylvie and Gabe’s neighbors while they live in Madison, were my favorite characters, though they are technically peripheral. I wanted some of their charm and quirkiness to exist in Sylvie and Gabe, who felt more one-dimensional. What is lacking in the protagonists, however, is made up for in the descriptions of the experiments Keller, Sylvie, and Gabe conduct on their patients, and the surprising twists and turns the overall plot takes. It is satisfying to watch the characters change in extremely significant ways, especially Dr. Keller. He mostly remains a mystery, but the flickers of humanity that shine through, specifically in Sylvie's last conversation with him, really hit. Benjamin is a skilled writer, and her ability to handle the pacing of the story so well kept me interested.

While the bulk of the novel deals with dreaming, it has a lot to say about being young and trying to maintain romantic relationships. Sylvie's eye wanders for different reasons, but still, it is clear that she loves Gabe. The word that consistently characterizes Sylvie is 'doubtful.' I think doubt plagues us all, especially when it comes to relationships. There are always other options, so we are constantly questioning whether or not the people we choose to be with are right for us. Down the line, perhaps we begin to understand the freedom in choosing, committing, and growing with someone, but the truth is, we can never really know another person. This idea is magnified when we are young. So yes, this coming of age narrative is already one of uncertainty, questions, and discovery. By placing it against the backdrop of a dream world, the reader gets double the tension. If you enjoy fiction and are interested in some Lucid Dreaming 101, pick up The Anatomy of Dreams.

About the author

Christine J. Schmidt is a writer originally from New Jersey. After receiving her BFA in Dramatic Writing from SUNY Purchase, she worked at Seattle Repertory Theatre as their artistic literary intern. She recently left Brooklyn, where she was a bookseller and events host at WORD, to reside in Los Angeles. She has previously written for New York Theatre Review, and her plays have been read and produced at theaters in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Washington. Coffee is her favorite thing.

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