New Yorker Hustvedt collaborates with the ghosts of her ancestors to produce a personal portrait of a fragmented America. Life in depression ridden rural Minnesota and the horror of war is invoked through entries from her dead father's diaries. Without the barrier of chapters, the narrative becomes dreamlike as the central character of tortured psychoanalyst, Erik Davidsen, exposes the reader to a series of vivid vignettes in flashback style revealing the internal demons of his immigrant family, patients and neighbours who are scarred by secrets, lies and the sorrows of being Americans. Reading this is like eating heavy chocolate sponge cake with a sweet cherry brandy centre - challenging but surprising.
And as the four of us dredged up old stories, both pedestrian and mythical, I found myself thinking about what Miranda had said, that in our dreams we live a parallel existence. There had been nothing particularly unusual about this comment, and yet during my trip to Minnesota I was plagued by the thought that I was in a dream, wading forward through heavy air in a distorted landscape. I had a briefcase full of papers on affect and the brain but was unable to read them. My life had suddenly slowed down. Without patients and the constant pressures of of a daily routine, I realized that my perception of time had been skewed.