By Sierra Maciorowski
Your eyes dart open. In the shadows beside your bed, you see a figure—not of a table, nor a lamp, but of a man. He sits, crouched, as you nervously slide the covers off, and doesn’t move as you grab the knife that you always keep under your pillow and…
While grossly oversimplified, this is the situation of many of Dr. Adrian Keller’s patients.
Not because they attract serial killers, but because they have sleep disorders which alter their perception with hallucinations in their sleep. Dr. Keller’s research, then, hinges on curing these patients of their disorders, not through medication, but through lucid dreaming. In his highly secretive experiments, sequestered in windowless rooms sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, patients with REM disorders and other such problems arrive almost constantly, hoping to be cured with the power of awareness.
Our protagonist, however, arrives every day, as a medical researcher and assistant to the doctor. When the story begins, Sylvie Patterson is a student at a boarding school in Eureka, California, whose slightly strange relationship with her mysterious classmate Gabe seems over when he suddenly disappears.
That is, until her senior year of college, when he reappears with the job offer which leads her to her elongated experience with lucid dreaming experimentation.
The Anatomy of Dreams is an ethical thriller, keeping its readers in the lurch as they attempt to determine right from wrong in the murky world of scientific research. Does discovery trump patient care? Does creating a murderer not matter in the grander scheme of science?
The protagonist of Anatomy acts as a representative of our own questions, as she gradually undergoes the journey to realization of the dangers of ethicality. And, through her struggles, we gain a stronger grasp on the power of dreams—both as a tool for good, and a tool for dangerous ambition.
The stunning discovery which Sylvie makes at the end of her time as a lucid dream researcher changes her world, and although that change is personal, the implications of such ethical ambiguity transform our world as well. As the sneaking suspicion creeps in that something is missing from our understanding of Sylvie’s experiences, we as readers are forced to question the author’s words themselves.
Thus, at the heart of Chloe Benjamin’s complex literary creation is the concept of trust.
As Sylvie gradually begins to recognize the differences between reality and dreaming, she gives us, as readers, a dreadful load of confusion about who we can trust. Doctors? Scientists? Family? Friends? The author? At the end, the answer seems to be almost no one.
320 pages of ethical questioning and romantic concerns make The Anatomy of Dreams a fascinating read. Thought-provoking to the extreme, Sylvie’s experiences in the forests of Eureka and the coastline of New England subtly draw the reader’s attention, until, by the third section, “Morning,” Sylvie’s awakening to the reality of her world is truly devastating. This is one new read that you won’t want to miss.