THE RULES OF DREAMING
The Rules of Dreaming
A novel of madness, music — and murder.
A beautiful opera singer hangs herself on the eve of her debut at the Met. Seven years later the opera she was rehearsing—Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann—begins to take over the lives of her two schizophrenic children, the doctors who treat them and everyone else who crosses their paths, until all are enmeshed in a world of deception and delusion, of madness and ultimately of evil and death. Onto this shadowy stage steps Nicole P., a graduate student who discovers that she too has been assigned a role in the drama. What strange destiny is being worked out in their lives?
Read an excerpt:
Late last summer, after less than two months at the Palmer Institute, I witnessed an extraordinary performance. One of my patients, Hunter Morgan (that was not his real name), sat down at the piano in the patient lounge and started playing like a virtuoso. Hunter was a twenty-one year old schizophrenic who had lived in the Institute for the past seven years, and as far as anyone could remember he’d never touched the piano before. The piece he played was classical music—that was about all I could tell—and it sounded fiendishly difficult, a whirlwind of chords and notes strung together in a jarring rhythm that seemed the perfect analog of a mind spinning out of control. He continued playing for about ten minutes and then suddenly stopped in the middle of an intense climactic passage. Without acknowledging his audience—which consisted of his sister Antonia, his nurse Mrs. Paterson, a few other patients and myself—he stood up from the piano and ran out of the room.
Since I was new at the Institute, the impact of this performance was lost on me at first. I assumed that Hunter had been studying the piano from an early age. It wasn’t until later that afternoon, when I reviewed Hunter’s chart and questioned Mrs. Paterson specifically about the piano playing, that I realized how uncanny this incident really was.
“You mean he’s never played the piano before?”
This intricately woven web of reality and delusion keeps you on your toes, because you never know what is really happening and what is simply in the mind of a madman. Sure, some parts make sense at face value. You can figure out some of the major plot points based on minor clues. Narration flows from first-person to third-person, which should help to clue you in, but can still keep you wondering. Not every character is who he or she seems to be. The layers are deconstructed throughout, until the truth is revealed in the end.
This is not a book that you can easily devour. You actually want to take your time absorbing all of the stories, to make sure you are keeping everything straight. At the same time, you are starting to wonder if you are falling prey to the madness that plagues some of the characters. Did that just happen? Did that character really just say that? I thought ... ?
The story fits in well with Nicole's thesis and is an interesting concept to ponder as both a writer and a reader.
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Bruce Hartman has been a bookseller, pianist, songwriter and attorney. He lives with his wife in Philadelphia. His previous novel, Perfectly Healthy Man Drops Dead, was published by Salvo Press in 2008.
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