Book Review: Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis


Several years ago my friends Mike and Annie lent me a time-travel adventure novel called The Doomsday Book (1992) by Connie Willis.  I enjoyed the book (it helped me get through a kidney stone for starters) and have been smitten with Willis’ brand of science fiction ever since.  A typical Willis novel generally involves some psychological phenomenon with a number of people obsessively trying to unravel it’s mystery.  This is true for fads in Belwether (1996), near-death experiencs in Passage (2002), and psychics in Inside Job (2005).  The Doomsday Book and its sort of sequel To Say Nothing of the Dog merely have people obsessing about time travel and the predicaments they find themselves in as a result (and remain my first and second favorite Willis books respectively). A weakness of these books are that all the characters seem equally obsessed and serve only to present new information and twists and turns rather than be fleshed out as individuals.  Willis makes up for this with a good sense of suspense, humor, and well-researched scientific and historical facts.

My fondness for Willis and Abraham Lincoln made reading Lincoln’s Dreams (1987) a natural choice.  The topic of obsession here is naturally dreams: do they rehash one’s day, foresee the future, or are they your body’s way of telling something. The book could easily be called Lee’s Dreams as a central character Annie appears to be revisiting the Civil War through the Confederate general’s dreams.  The title comes from another character, a Shelby Foote-like author, who obsesses over the dreams Lincoln had foreshadowing his assassination.  Despite a nice hodge-podge of dream psychology, history (with great historical tales about Lee’s horse Trigger Traveller), and the familiar setting of Washington and Virginia, this book didn’t hit the mark to me.  The characters are so subservient to plot and the plot so subservient to a nice pat theory of dreams that there really is no story here at all.  Then again, it’s brain candy, but a least of an intelligent kind.

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