Dreaming in Color
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"Dreamy Plot... Tale of three women predictable but satisfying"

By Myrna Lippman, special to the Sun-Sentinel, Ft. Lauderdale 11/14/1993

Does the hue of one's dream have psychological significance?

What does the color or lack thereof reveal about the dreamer? There is a large body of literature on dreams and color, with theories ranging from "dreams occur in color but fade into black and white" to "experiments show that most people dream in color most of the time" to "color in dreams yields no information about the people."

What does all this have to do with Dreaming In Color, the new novel by the author of Leftover Dreams? Obviously a great deal for Vale-Allen; her characters' dreams are an integral part of the story.

Eva Rule, a successful novelist in her early 40s, widowed when her now-college-age daughter was 6, is greatly disturbed by the direction that her dreams are taking. Ever since she met Bobby Salton, an abused runaway wife, the younger woman's battered face conjures up long-buried memories of a dear friend named Deborah, and the memories are translated into dreams. Coming face to face with the reality of this pathetic victim brings the pain of recognition of another victim to the present, resulting in dreams that leave her distraught upon awakening.

"Do you dream in color or black and white?" Eva asks her beloved aunt Alma, with whom she's living. Alma, a former private school headmistress in her 60s who has been incapacitated by a stroke, replies, "Color, naturally. ... Is this some kind of imbecilic psychological test?"

"No, I'm serious. I've been dreaming lately in black and white. I think it must mean something."

"Maybe it means you're too lazy to fill in the mental colors," Alma says.

"Maybe," Eva allows. "Whatever it means, it's strange."

Eva eventually asks that same question of Bobby, who arrived at her house to apply for a job as Alma's companion. The ad in the paper requires a nurse, but Bobby, whose education ended in high school, insists she has the strength and compassion to do whatever has to be done for Alma. The spinster educator is a difficult patient who is having trouble accepting her infirmities, but she is quite taken by Bobby and her little girl.

Despite Eva's reluctance to employ an uneducated companion, a sign of Eva's elitist views and distaste for people who do not take responsibility for themselves, Bobby gets the job. She and Penny live in a small apartment in the house and are given more opportunities for a better life than they would have had if she had remained with her violent husband, Joe.

Bobby's dreams are of Joe's finding them and killing her and possibly Penny. Her dreams are her reality as he has come pretty close to it several times.

The lives of these three women-two very schooled and cultured and one whose speech is always being corrected for grammatical errors-are forever changed by their interaction. Images of Deborah intrude on Eva's serene and orderly existence, images of Joe coming at Bobby with a knife shake her belief that life is now infinitely better, images of Alma's long-departed fiancé who jilted her as a young woman continue to haunt her after 40 years. These visions occur just as much during the day as at night.

Although the climax is predictable, Dreaming In Color is a deeply satisfying contemporary story. But it is more than an entertainment. It is a cautionary tale of a domestic tragedy that makes headlines daily. Vale-Allen includes an appendix with information to help victims of domestic violence in the United States and Canada.

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From Publishers Weekly, July 5, 1993

Writing with conviction and clarity, prolific novelist Allen (Leftover Dreams) offers a highly competent treatment of a topical theme. When her sadistic husband Joe begins menacing their six-year-old daughter Penny, abused and battered Bobby Salton finally flees their upstate New York home. She finds sanctuary in a well-appointed Connecticut house where she is hired to nurse stroke victim Alma Ogilvie, formerly the independent-minded director of a girls school. But Bobby's presence brings out the worst in Alma's sharp-tongued, judgmental niece, Eva Rule, a novelist who disdains Bobby and-blaming the victim-thinks the woman is perhaps responsible for her own abuse. It becomes apparent, though, that Bobby revives painful memories in Eva of her old friend Deborah; gradually, Allen seamlessly weaves Deborah's tragic story into that of the three women's burgeoning relationship. Hovering (far too melodramatically) in the background is the psychopathic Joe, ever on Bobby's trail. Complex and sharply delineated characters merge with often compelling prose as Allen portrays three uncertain women finding some degree of resolve. In addition to her adroit integration of information about the battered wife syndrome, Allen includes a list of North American organizations that aid victims of domestic violence.

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"Novel probes wife abuse... Compassion, love and commitment can prevail over appalling evil. "

Reviewed by Dennis Jones, from the London Free Press, 10/16/1993

Dreaming In Color deals with the issue of wife abuse through the stories of three women and a child. These are Bobby, the brutalized wife fleeing her husband Joe; Penny, Bobby's six-year-old daughter; Eva, a successful novelist in her forties; and Eva's aunt Alma, damaged emotionally and physically by a recent stroke.

The novel opens as Bobby, lying alone on her kitchen floor after another beating, realizes that she must run from Joe before his fury spills onto Penny, as it has once before. Packing themselves into Bobby's battered car, mother and daughter flee into the night, and after two days reach Stamford, Conn. There, Bobby searches for work, but is hampered by her lack of education and skills. Almost penniless, she applies for a live-in nursing position, which is to help Eva Rule take care of the disabled Alma. Eva, though with some discomfort at Bobby's background, hires her, and Bobby and Penny move into the household.

EMOTIONAL CURRENTS: From this point on, the novel explores the complex emotional currents that flow among these three women and the child. Alma and Eva are highly educated, successful people; but Alma is embittered by her stroke, and Eva's writing is suffering from a creative block.

Worse, Bobby's very presence reminds Eva painfully of an old friend whose husband murdered her. Neither Alma nor Eva can understand why (as they see it) Bobby "allowed" herself to be abused, and to her shame Eva finds herself having irrational fits of anger at Bobby. However, Bobby's nursing is excellent, and Alma and Eva become fond of Penny.

As time passes, Penny by her mere presence breaks down the wall each older woman has built around herself and Bobby, to her astonishment, begins a hesitant relationship with the young man who is Alma's physical therapist.

THREAT OF JOE: But constantly hanging over Bobby's hope of security is the threat of Joe. She knows that if he finds her, he will probably kill her for running away from him. This is beyond Eva's understanding. She believes, almost to the end, that Joe cannot be as bad as that. Bobby, sadly wiser than Eva despite Eva's education, knows differently. And when Joe does appear, Eva discovers to her horror that her intelligence and good intentions are powerless against the physical strength and viciousness of a man like Joe.

Vale-Allen has written an unsettling novel, with some acute insights into the reality of abuse. Yet the book is far from bleak. Despite Joe's mindless violence and the women's misunderstanding of each other, Dreaming In Color insists that compassion, love and commitment can prevail over the most appalling evils, although the cost can be high. Charlotte Vale-Allen, also the author of Daddy's Girl, a classic autobiographical work about incest, writes with authenticity, and her new novel is more than worthwhile. ***

Dennis Jones is a Waterloo freelance writer and author of several best-selling novels.

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