Saturday, November 05, 2005

Lincoln's Dreams, by Connie Willis

Lincoln's Dreams, by Connie Willis, is a well-constructed story, with multiple levels of parallel meaning on display simultaneously. It reminds me strongly of one of my Dad's photos of leaves floating on the surface of a pond, with the trees reflecting off the surface in some places, and the rocks on the bottom showing through in others. Jeff Johnston does research for Broun, a writer of civil war novels, whose current project has gotten him involved in the dreams Lincoln suffered from after losing his son. Annie, a beautiful young woman who has been having nightmares full of civil war imagery comes hoping for an explanation from Broun after not getting help from a sleep clinic. Jeff takes her under his wing after recognizing a few of the particular battles that appear symbolicly in her dreams.

Willis weaves together the draft of Broun's latest civil war novel, snippets of history that Jeff and Annie find while clarifying the images in the dreams and chasing down leads for Broun, and Jeff and Annie's disturbing trips to the Virginia battlefield memorials that confirm that the dreams are rooted in history. The pair come to trust and care about each other as they slowly uncover the clues that may have mortal consequences in the present, while the civil war soldiers in the draft novel simultaneously cross and re-cross the same battlefields looking for their units or waiting for the next skirmish.

The whole thing was made just a little more resonant for me because I read the book while on a quick trip to Virginia. I was driving my own circles daily between Alexandria (where I was staying with my sister) and the Arlington and Fairfax campuses where the George Mason economists I'm working with have their offices and run their experiments. I've spent enough time in the area that the occasional memorial sign I drove past reinforced the familiarity of all the infamous battlefields the characters visited awake, asleep, and fictional within the story.

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