The Anatomy of Dreams

A Novel

The Anatomy of Dreams

Winner of the Edna Ferber Prize

Long-listed for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize

“A sly, promising and ambitious debut.” —Publishers Weekly

“Chloe Benjamin is a great new talent.” —Lorrie Moore, author of Bark: Stories

It’s 1998, and Sylvie Patterson, a bookish student at a Northern California boarding school, falls in love with a spirited, elusive classmate named Gabe. Their headmaster, Dr. Adrian Keller, is a charismatic medical researcher who has staked his career on the therapeutic potential of lucid dreaming: By teaching his patients to become conscious during sleep, he helps them to relieve stress and heal from trauma. Over the next six years, Sylvie and Gabe become consumed by Keller’s work, following him from the redwood forests of Eureka, California, to the enchanting New England coast.

But when an opportunity brings the trio to the Midwest, Sylvie and Gabe stumble into a tangled relationship with their mysterious neighbors—and Sylvie begins to doubt the ethics of Keller’s research, recognizing the harm that can be wrought under the guise of progress. As she navigates the hazy, permeable boundaries between what is real and what isn’t, who can be trusted and who cannot, Sylvie also faces surprising developments in herself: an unexpected infatuation, growing paranoia, and a new sense of rebellion.

In stirring, elegant prose, Benjamin’s tale exposes the slippery nature of trust—and the immense power of our dreams.
  • Atria Books | 
  • 320 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476761169 | 
  • September 2014
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Read an Excerpt

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Anatomy of Dreams includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Young couple Gabe and Sylvie are lured into a controversial sleep study by their charismatic boarding school headmaster, injecting mistrust into the trio and revealing the immense, uncontrollable power of our dreams.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. Think about Sylvie’s relationship with Gabe from their first days at Mills to Wisconsin. How does their relationship evolve over the course of the novel?
2. How did you first react to Dr. Keller and his influence over his students? Why are Gabe and Sylvie attracted to joining Keller in his controversial, secretive line of work?
3. How does painting help Sylvie process her feelings?
4. Why do you think Sylvie decides to go with Gabe when he suddenly reappears in her life? Do you think she ever trusted him after he disappeared from Mills?
5. How does Gabe change in the years between high school and the years in Wisconsin?
6. Why do you think the author used nonlinear storytelling to see more

About the Author

Chloe Benjamin
Photograph © Nicholas Wilkes

Chloe Benjamin

Chloe Benjamin is a graduate of Vassar College and The University of Wisconsin-Madison MFA program. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The AtlanticPankWhiskey Island, and The Washington Independent Review of Books. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.