I picked this up at a library book sale because I’d seen Connie Willis on several recommended reading lists, but I won’t be reading another any time soon. I was not a fan of this one.
Jeff is a researcher, working for an author who writes about the Civil War. Richard is his old college roommate, now a doctor at a sleep institute. Annie is a cardboard cutout, only given a name and hair color (pale blonde), who only exists to let the male characters save or protect or harass or drug her, all for her own good.
Annie is having weird dreams about the Civil War. Richard, her doctor, has sex with her, then puts anti-psychotic drugs in her food without her knowledge. “It just happened!”, he tells Jeff. “It’s for her own good!” When the four of them meet up, Annie wants to ask the author about the Civil War and see if she can piece together her dreams. Jeff falls instantly in love with the pale, fragile, damaged girl, and takes her away to hide her from Richard. For her own good. They tour battlefields all around the D.C./Virginia area, and he starts to believe her when she says she’s having Robert E. Lee’s dreams. He sits by her bed and watches her sleep, then tells her about what was going on in Lee’s life when she tells him what she dreams.
Except every other page or so he tries to stop her from having the dreams, because they’re so hard on her. She wants to go see a battlefield and match it up with what she dreamed; he says no. She takes a taxi and goes anyway; he gets in his car and goes to fetch her, paying off the waiting taxi. For her own good, of course. Annie keeps trying to figure out what Lee is trying to tell her, and Jeff the historical expert flat-out lies to her and tricks her on several occasions, thinking the truth might be too much for her fragile self to handle. Sing the chorus with me now: for her own good.
Eventually, Annie’s health gets worse, and Jeff decides Richard was right after all. Jeff thought he knew what was best for Annie, but really Richard knew what was best for Annie. You know who doesn’t get a vote on what’s best for Annie? You got it: Annie. So Jeff tricks her into an encounter with Richard, who has a hospital room waiting for her. She’s so horrified by the betrayal, Jeff finally gets a glimmer of what a jerk he’s been the whole book. He gives her a bunch of money, puts her in a cab, and tells her to go do what she has to do to finish whatever Lee’s trying to do.
And…that’s it. There’s a bunch of stuff about Robert E. Lee, and some side stuff about Abraham Lincoln’s dreams (that’s what the author’s next book is going to be about), and just lots and lots and lots of traveling to battlefields and watching Annie sleep. And Jeff hoping desperately that Annie’s dependence on him and their forced proximity will make her return his love. And then an unsatisfying ending. Not a good Connie Willis to start with.