Body and Soul

Once Upon A Dream by Jennifer Archer
(Dorchester, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0-505-52418-X
Robin Wise is twenty nine and terrified she wonít make it to thirty. Every woman in her family, from her great-grandmother on down, died within a week of their thirtieth birthday. And her birthday is coming up soon. Robin has gradually shut herself off from the rest of the world while she waits. Her only release is her strange dreams. Itís there, in a weird mix of past and present, she goes off to find her great-grandmother and get rid of the curse.

Of course she doesnít go off alone. Alex Simon is a transplanted Britisher who has had it with bad relationships. Heís tired of trying to deal with women. But he has dreams, too - dreams of gamblers who help rescue sassy women in a strange mix of Old West and present day. And for some reason those dreams are making him think of his new next door neighbor, Robin.

Stories with dream sequences for a major part of the plot tend to have a problem - either the non-dream characters are strong and you resent the dreams intruding, or the dreams are the more important story and the ďrealĒ characters are just there to provide some reason for the dreams. There is a third possibility, though. Neither the dreams nor the characters are that fascinating. Unfortunately in this book, things come closer to the third possibility.

Robin is someone who has refused to leave her house for the past year. Itís hard to make her a compelling character. Sheís so paralyzed with fear that she canít leave even when a tornado heads her way. (I really hoped someone would yell ďSnap out of it, girl!Ē before slapping her, but Alex rescues her instead.) In her dreams she is bolder, but not bold enough. I just wasnít fascinated by her awake or asleep.

Alex is somewhat more interesting. He is a perfectionist who is compelled to try varied hobbies and yet remains uncertain of his abilities. As the Gambler in the dream, heís suave and much more sure of himself. Either way, though, he grows more anxious to rescue Robin from her fate. But he doesnít have enough charisma to keep the book going on his own. And why is he in the dreams? I kept expecting to find out he was descendent of a husband or lover of the ill-fated ancestors of the heroine but that doesnít seem to be the case.

The secondary characters, Robinís relatives, are somewhat entertaining but I kept waiting for them to show up in the dream sequences or somehow explain to me why they were taking up so much of the plot line. They might be the bad guys in the dream sequence, but if so, that isnít very clear - and why would they be the bad guys? They only want to help Robin in the non-dream plot.

The plot is more ambitious than many Iíve read recently and I wish the author could have pulled it off, but I just wasnít transported into the half-dream, half-reality that the story needs to take us to. Well, unless you count the naps I almost drifted off into once or twice.

--Irene Williams

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