The Devil’s Dreamer
Alice Brennan | Prestige Books | 1971 | 253 pages
New York editorial assistant Carsa Winters suffers from a vivid recurring nightmare that threatens her sense of identity and upsets her perception of reality. In her dream world, she is Mincy Lessard, a nineteenth-century wife and mother suffering from a nervous disorder. As Mincy’s condition worsens, her cruel husband Philippe threatens her with institutionalization, while she struggles to convince him (and herself) that she is actually Carsa Winters, a young unmarried twentieth-century girl.
Seemingly unable to play her dream “role”, Mincy’s diagnosis of madness is only reinforced by Carsa’s continued screaming, “I am not Mincy Lessard! I am not married! I do not have a child! I am Carsa Winters! I am Carsa Winters! I am CARSA WINTERS!”
Carsa’s own present condition suffers as she tries to remain awake, drinking endless pots of coffee and refusing to sleep at night in an attempt to prevent her dream from returning. However, she begins to slip into her alternate dream world even while awake, resulting in mysterious time lapses. People in her life begin to transpose their identities with the people in her dream—her roommate Liz becomes Mincy’s nursemaid in 1870, and Victor Harris, a man she meets at a cocktail party, shifts into the role of Mincy’s abusive husband Philippe—increasing the frequency of the bleed-overs between the parallel worlds.
Am I dreaming? Is my dream actually my reality, and my present life only a dream? Am I really Carsa, or am I Mincy? Am I both? Are you really who I think you are? Am I schizophrenic? Am I hallucinating because someone slipped me LSD at a party?
Although admittedly central to the mystery, the continual repetition, page-in and page-out, of the same set of questions works against the narrative tension, holding the story to a one-note feeling until its conclusion. Carsa’s experiences illustrate the nature of her condition without the constant, literal self-questioning. Forwarding the notion of precognition (or retro-cognition) ultimately fails to account for some of the people Carsa meets, who seem to be creations of an alternate timeline rather than instances of repeated lives.
The Devil’s Dreamer does unexpectedly veer into a melancholy acceptance of fate, refreshingly precluding Carsa’s love interest from simply coming to her rescue, finally bending its characters into its deterministic view of the universe.