The Cure for Dreaming

When I was younger and sillier, I read long books to attempt to be more educated, refined, and world-wise.  In reality, I accomplished very little other than consuming large amounts of words arranged in convoluted sentences.  I thought that book lists issued by notable universities or that book 1001 Books to Read before You Die should guide my reading choices.  Some of these books I enjoyed: Oronooko by Aphra Behn, The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and The Crying of Lot 39 by Thomas Pyncheon.  I would have never selected these on my own, and for this I am grateful for the Fancy Book List(s).

Then I grew up and got a job and experienced the stress of work-life as opposed to school-life (for me, these are two very different stressors) and all I wanted from a book was an escape.  I no longer cared what people thought of what I read.  Who are they to judge my reading?  So I went back and read the young adult literature I denied myself when I was a teen.  I devoured fractured fairy tales and discovered the inimitable Francesca Lia Block and flung myself into teen steampunk.  And yet, after a few years, I noticed that popular YA had fallen into a bit of a rut.  Books like The Hunger Games and The Fault in Our Stars, which I read when they first came out and which I loved unequivocally, inspired multitudes of similar titles.  For some series, these books provided a great jumping-off point for original storytelling, interesting characters, and twisty plots.  The majority of books I've read lately, however, have been pretty derivative and facepalm-worthy.

Deep down, I think the problem is that they really haven't anything to say.  Yes, The Hunger Games trilogy was entertaining, but Collins didn't just write to entertain.  She wrote a critique of our culture's obsession with violence.  Katniss was a character on which teens and adults could project their struggles against oppression (however it was perceived) and their insecurities about their own worth and abilities.  Katniss is a pawn caught in something much larger than herself--are we not all Katnisses, in a way (unless you're a dictator and everyone does what you says, in which case you probably wouldn't be a) reading this blog or b) reading literature like The Hunger Games anyway)?  We get up, go to work, do our work, go home, have fun, and go to bed, all according to the rules and laws of our respective cultures and countries of residence.  Sometimes we question if it's worth it; if there isn't something better; if one day our lives could become as regimented and repressed as those of the citizens of Panem.  The Hunger Games made me think, just as The Fault in Our Stars made me feel.

Now, finally, I've read another book that made me think--really think--about freedom: Cat Winters' The Cure for Dreaming.

Have you ever eaten a millefeuille or mille-feuille?  It literally means "thousand leaves" or a thousand layers of pastry.  They look like this:

Obviously, it doesn't actually have a thousand layers of pastry in it, but some recipes get pretty close. It's a wonderfully luscious pastry that seems airy, but the layers of pastry can only be achieved with that glorious ingredient: butter.  It's richer than it seems.

So it was with The Cure for Dreaming.  Even if you read this completely superficially, which I hope you wouldn't, you would still get a great story involving hypnotists, scuzzy rich boys, suffragettes, and mind control.  

On her birthday, Livie (Olivia) and her friends attend the performance of a hypnotist in Portland, Oregon.  The year is 1900.  The hypnotist, Henri Reverie, is no aged bumbler but a young man swathed in black and accompanied by his sister, a virtuoso organist.  Gothic, indeed.  Olivia is urged to volunteer to be hypnotized by the young man.  He causes her body to become stiff as a board and then stands on her chest in front of the whole theater!

Livie's father, a rather notorious dentist (really, I am surprised more dentists aren't notorious), is not pleased with her "unladylike" behavior.  It's election season in Portland, and the suffragettes are out in full force, demanding a voice in the vote.  Father rages against them, and Livie suspects his animosity may stem from her mother's exceedingly bohemian lifestyle--she lives in New York City and is an actress.  Shocking, in those days--especially as she has a daughter who lives on the other side of the country.  Olivia, however, is an ardent feminist and believes in the cause of the suffragettes.  She's tired of her father's constant demands and attempts to repress her spirit.

Energized by the atmosphere in the city, Olivia writes an impassioned letter to the Oregonian and signs it "A Responsible Woman."  Meanwhile, her father hires Henri Reverie to hypnotize Livie into being his idea of a model woman: silent, submissive, and broken.  Whenever she becomes angry, she can only say, "All is well."  Her powers of expression are literally removed from her and she is disarmed of almost every weapon she could use to protect herself.  Just words, you may say.  Words cut.  Words kill.  Words heal.

As you may imagine, this throws Olivia into some rather dangerous situations, and she contacts Henri to reverse the spell.  Things get complicated, and schemes, plots, and lies weave their way throughout the narrative, much as Henri's words weave their way into a subject's subconscious.  Obviously, I can't tell you the ending, but I will say that it stopped me cold and made me think--really think--about how lucky I am to be able to express myself.

This isn't just a book about suffragettes fighting for the vote.  It's about women demanding to be treated as more than cooks and baby-making-machines.  It's about saying "No" when someone makes unwanted advances--and making them listen to that "no."  It's about the power of many small voices melding together to create a shout that cannot be ignored.

I'll also say that the ending is just perfection.

I love how Winters includes Bram Stoker's Dracula as a plot device--and not in a Twilight-oh-Edward-I-lust-after-you way.  Livie goes against the grain of polite society by reading the book, and it literally comes back to bite her later.  There's a fantastic scene where a young and rich playboy muses over the female characters in the novel, seeing them as weak-willed objects.  Olivia argues that they are liberated and empowered.  It's such a relief to find someone (well, Olivia and Cat Winters) who uses Dracula as an example of the condemnation of Victorian sexual repression and not just a story about the undead.

Winters includes a quote and a photograph at the beginning of each chapter, and these perfectly complement the narrative.  She even created a Pinterest board that collects the music that inspired and is featured in The Cure for Dreaming.

Perhaps I've used my freedom of speech too much in this post, rambling on about this and that, but let's distill the concept down to this simple idea: read this book.  Then think.  Then speak.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.


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