In our third year, though, a lunar eclipse brought us together. Mr. Cooke, our physics teacher, had been talking it up all semester, and our class had permission to see it. It would be at 6:51 P.M.—dinnertime—but that night we ate outside. It was cold but not snowing: in Northern California, January brought steamy haze that lent each evening a feeling of dark eventfulness. We carried out blankets and trays and huddled at the top of Observatory Hill, where Mr. Cooke had once shown us how to chart the phases of the moon. I sat with Hannah McGowan, my roommate and best friend, who was telling me a story in a rapid, hushed voice and at one point said, “Sylvie. Sylvie . . .” but I could hardly hear her. Her voice trailed into the air like fog as we waited for the moon to change.
Mr. Cooke had told us that a lunar eclipse could only occur when a full moon was perfectly aligned with the earth and sun. For just a few minutes, he said, our planet would cast
two shadows and the moon would travel through them. Light from the sun, passing through earth’s atmosphere, would bend toward the moon, and our rock would transform: dyedby the planet’s sunrises and sunsets, the beginnings of days and the ends of them, she would turn red.
I knew all of this, but I was still unprepared for the feeling that came over us when it happened. Slowly, earth’s shadow moved in front of the moon, covering it almost completely. But the moon fought back. Like a phoenix, she shed her ashes and caught fire. We gaped at her change in costume: she hung, a blood orange in darkness. The trees and the sky and even the hill vanished, and we had only each other.”
–Excerpt from The Anatomy of Dreams
Late Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.
Chloe Benjamin: Couple performs experimental dream research beneath charismatic professor; trouble ensues.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
CB: Ooh, that’s easy. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
CB: Adapted from recipes by Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore and Vladimir Nabokov: 4 heaping cups of motivation, a salty tablespoon of self-doubt, some peppery criticism and a healthy dose of quirk (paprika?). Four hours of laborious kneading with an eye toward precision of language. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise, hopefully with something resembling inspiration, before baking. The final project should taste better than it sounds.
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
CB: Nabokov, Lolita.
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
CB: Do you believe in writing only when the muse moves you, or in writing on a schedule, as if exercising a muscle? I believe in both. I do feel there are times when the muse is there and the writing feels magical, and those times are precious–often the writing is much stronger. That said, I also think it’s important to commit to the act of writing regularly–often, the muse won’t show up if you don’t show up first, and sometimes the breakthroughs happen when you’re up against internal resistance.
Get a copy of The Anatomy of Dreams at IndieBound
Chloe Benjamin is the author of The Anatomy of Dreams, which has been long-listed for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Her writing is published or forthcoming in The Atlantic, The Millions, PANK and elsewhere. She lives in Madison, WI and on the internet at www.chloekrugbenjamin.com