Discover the award-winning debut novel by the New York Times bestselling author of The Immortalists, a “majestic collision of sci-fi thriller and love story” (Bustle) about a young woman struggling with questions of love, trust, and ethics as the line between dreams and reality dangerously blurs.
When Sylvie Patterson, a bookish student at a Northern California boarding school, falls in love with a spirited, elusive classmate named Gabe, they embark on an experiment that changes their lives. Their headmaster, Dr. Adrian Keller, is a charismatic medical researcher who has staked his career on the therapeutic potential of lucid dreaming: by teaching his patients to become conscious during sleep, he believes he can relieve stress and trauma. Over the next six years, Sylvie and Gabe become consumed by Keller’s work, following him across the country.
But when an opportunity brings the trio to the Midwest, Sylvie and Gabe stumble into a tangled relationship with their mysterious neighbors—and Sylvie begins to doubt the ethics of Keller’s research. As she navigates the hazy, permeable boundaries between what is real and what isn’t, who can be trusted and who cannot, Sylvie also faces surprising developments in herself—an unexpected infatuation, growing paranoia, and a new sense of rebellion.
With stirring, elegant prose, “Chloe Benjamin has crafted an eerie, compelling first novel which, like the lingering effects of a vivid dream, resonates long past its finish” (Karen Brown, The Longings of Wayward Girls).
This reading group guide forThe Anatomy of Dreamsincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Young couple Gabe and Sylvie are lured into a controversial sleep study by their charismatic boarding school headmaster, injecting mistrust into the trio and revealing the immense, uncontrollable power of our dreams.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Think about Sylvie’s relationship with Gabe from their first days at Mills to Wisconsin. How does their relationship evolve over the course of the novel?
2. How did you first react to Dr. Keller and his influence over his students? Why are Gabe and Sylvie attracted to joining Keller in his controversial, secretive line of work?
3. How does painting help Sylvie process her feelings?
4. Why do you think Sylvie decides to go with Gabe when he suddenly reappears in her life? Do you think she ever trusted him after he disappeared from Mills?
5. How does Gabe change in the years between high school and the years in Wisconsin?
6. Why do you think the author used nonlinear storytelling to give insight into Sylvie’s life? How did this influence your understanding of the storyline?
7. Consider the themes of privacy and intrusion throughout the novel. How does the issue of privacy play into Gabe and Sylvie’s relationship? How does it affect their work?
8. Think about Sylvie and Gabe’s first interactions with Thom and Janna. Why does Sylvie end up telling Thom so much about their work?
9. Sylvie and Gabe can’t really have close friends due to the secrecy their work requires. How does this loneliness and isolation affect Sylvie? How does it affect Gabe?
10. Thom argues that the subconscious is perhaps best left alone, that it’s dangerous to make people aware of their darkest dreams and subconscious desires. Do you agree with Thom? Why or why not?
11. How do the interactions with Jamie and Anne change the relationship between Sylvie, Gabe, and Keller?
12. How did you react to the revelation at the novel’s climax? Do you think Sylvie suspected something all along?
13. Why doesn’t Sylvie confront Keller and tell him the real reason she left Wisconsin?
14. Does Sylvie get the closure she needed from Keller? From Gabe? How is she affected by the chance meeting with Thom in Seattle?
15. Consider the last scene in the book, when Sylvie gazes at the stars and considers Keller’s theory of the conscious and subconscious minds. Do you think Sylvie still believes in Keller’s work? Why or why not?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Experiment with keeping a dream journal. Keep your journal next to your bed and record your dreams as soon as you wake up each morning. Look for interesting patterns or themes, and share some of them with your book club. For help with decoding your dreams, visit www .DreamMoods.com or www.TheCuriousDreamer.com.
2. Take a painting class with your book club at a local community center, school, or art store. Try your hand at painting representational interpretations of your dreams, just as Sylvie does in The Anatomy of Dreams.
3. Learn more about the author at www.chloekrugbenjamin.com/. Catch up with Chloe’s other writing, connect on social media, and check out Chloe’s book recommendations on her blog!
Chloe Benjamin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Immortalists and The Anatomy of Dreams, which won the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award. She is a graduate of Vassar College and The University of Wisconsin-Madison MFA program. Learn more at ChloeBenjaminBooks.com.
“A sly, promising, and ambitious debut.”–Publishers Weekly
“Matches the subtle surrealism of a dream with the underpinnings of a thriller.” –Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author of Modern Lovers
"A riveting tale that will instantly transfix readers, like a dream you’re not quite ready to wake up from." –Bustle
“Wrestles with the big complexities of early adulthood—the impossibility of fully knowing a partner, the quixotic desire for meaningful work, and the surprisingly sudden nature of obsession…Shimmers and surprises.” –Dean Bakopoulos
“Mounting tension and [an] atmosphere of secrecy will definitely keep the pages of this taut psychological exploration turning right up until the tense, satisfying denouement.”–Booklist