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The Sweetest Dreamby Doris May Lessing
Synopses & Reviews
This multigenerational story of the Lennox family spans most of the twentieth century and has its fulcrum in London during the 1960s, that turbulent and contradictory decade. The youth of that time, shattering old bonds and demanding new freedoms, were viewed by many of their elders not as romantic idealists, but as deeply damaged people. Julia, the Lennox clan matriarch and a victim herself of World War II, knows why. "You can't have two dreadful wars and then say 'That's it, and now everything will go back to normal.' They're screwed up, our children, they are the children of war." The aloof, well-to-do Julia and her daughter-in-law, the beleaguered Frances, fight together on behalf of "the kids" and their omnipresent band of dysfunctional friends. Earth Mother Frances's self-sacrifice and passivity are put to the test repeatedly by her ex-husband, 'Comrade' Johnny, the maddening figure whose ceaseless political agenda threatens to tear the Lennox family apart. Here is a memorable picture of a character only recently departed from our scene. "The revolution comes before personal matters" is Johnny's dictum, as he deposits discarded wives and forsaken children in the accommodating house whose emotional center is always the extendable kitchen table, that essential prop of the '60s.
The friends of the family who occupy this table spend their evenings eating, boasting about their shoplifting, and debating the violent ideologies of their time — blithely unaware that their politics and beliefs will involve them more fully in the world. The latter portion of "The Sweetest Dream recounts the experiences of Sylvia, Johnny's daughter by his second wife, in an Africanvillage dying of AIDS. Her fortitude in confronting the quintessential plague of the 1980s brings this story full-circle and engages it in some of the most profound issues of our era. This novel reflects our recent history like a many-faceted mirror, and it is full of people not easily forgotten, each — for worse or for better, directly or indirectly — made by war.
"[A] shimmering, solidly wrought, deeply felt portrait of a divorced 'earth' mother and her passel of teenage live-ins....While the last section lacks the intimate presence of long-suffering Frances, the novel is weightily molded by Lessing's rich life experience and comes to a momentous conclusion." Publishers Weekly
"Lessing?s most engrossing novel in many years." London Times Literary Supplement
"The dream of a perfect society is the ironic center of Lessing's absorbing new novel..." Kirkus Reviews
"[I]rresistibly alluring. The book summons us to continue reading; we follow it faithfully and, at the end, discover that it does not conclude neatly....Only when it is past do we realize that this has been one of Lessing's most generous works." Penelope Mesic, Book Magazine
"A great story with a Dickensian cast of memorable characters." Evening Standard
"[Lessing's] acute political and artistic awareness makes her vision of our time rich and almost always freshly perceptive." The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
Frances Lennox ladles out dinner every night to the motley, exuberant, youthful crew assembled around her hospitable tableher two sons and their friends, girlfriends, ex-friends, and ftesh-off-the-street friends. It's the early 1960s and certainly "everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." Except financial circumstances demand that Frances and her sons Eve with her proper ex-mother-in-law. And her ex-husband, Comrade Johnny, has just dumped his second wife's problem child at Frances's feet. And the world's political landscape has suddenly become surreal beyond imagination....
Set against the backdrop of the decade that changed the world forever, The Sweetest Dream is a riveting look at a group of people who dared to dream-and faced the inevitable cleanup afterward — from one of the greatest writers of our time.
Frances Lennox stands at her stove, bringing another feast to readiness before ladling it out to the youthful crew assembled around her hospitable table — her two sons and their friends, girlfriends, ex-friends, and new friends fresh off the street. It's London in the 1960s and everything is being challenged and changed.
But what is being tolerated? Comrade Johnny delivers political tirades, then laps up the adolescent adulation before disappearing into the night to evade the clutches of his responsibilities. Johnny's mother funds all but finds she can embrace only one lost little girl — Sylvia, who leaves for a South African village dying of AIDS.
These are the people dreaming the sixties into being and who, on the morning after, woke to find they were the ones taxed with cleaning up and making good.
About the Author
Doris Lessing was born to British parents in Persia in 1919 and moved with her family to Southern Rhodesia when she was five years old. She went to England in 1949 and has lived there ever since. She is the author of more than thirty books--novels, short stories, reportage, poems, and plays--and is considered among the most important writers of the postwar era. Her most recent works include two volumes of autobiography, Under My Skin and Walking in the Shade, and a novel, Mara and Dann.
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