The Trajectory of Dreams
A Novel by Nicole Wolverton
2013 / 285 Pages
Nicole Wolverton’s debut novel follows Lela White, a sleep lab researcher in Houston, Texas. Lela’s life revolves around sleep, even though she rarely gets any of her own. That’s because she spends her nights breaking into the homes of astronauts to study their sleep patterns. She knows it’s illegal, but a mental illness convinces Lela that her obtrusive and creepy research is for the greater good of NASA and the world. And just to be on the safe side, Lela always has an assassination plan ready just in case one of her subjects wakes to find an intruder hovering over their bed charting snores, twitches, and dream patterns.
Lela has been obsessed with the space program since she was a child, and she’s been studying sleep patterns since childhood as well. Her first subject was her abusive, mentally unstable mother, who often woke to her daughter’s vacant, staring eyes and responded violently. Lela’s dad usually kept the peace as much as possible, but one particularly violent incident led to her mother’s disappearance. Lela has not seen or heard from her mother since she was ten years old, but she has become paranoid that her mother is watching her, and possibly even sending spies to keep track of her.
In her free time, Lela volunteers at her local library, where she works with her only true friend in the world – an elderly librarian who has been a family friend since Lela’s childhood. Her only other acquaintance is a house cat, Nike, who Lela believes is her friend and protector. They even talk to each other. Well, Nike communicates through blinks, but Lela understands his words loud and clear. Usually he tells her to trust no one and encourages her homicidal tendencies. So far, she’s been able to keep everything nice and neat and under control. But when she unexpectedly enters a romantic relationship with Zory, a Russian astronaut, Lela’s plans for NASA and her own personal life quickly disintegrate. And when a mentally unstable, possibly schizophrenic micromanager loses control, the repercussions are, well, astronomical.
Lela’s instability is evident from the first page of the novel:
Breaking into an astronaut’s home took time. There were research and preparation to account for. An assassination plan in case the subject failed my testing. And even establishing a schedule and behavioral pattern for each astronaut could take weeks.
But Wolverton’s novel isn’t just a profile of mental illness. It’s also a novel about perception, trauma, and fate. Lela has never considered herself to be in any way morally responsible for her actions. As she says;
Some animals are more equal than others. It was definitely true in my case. Years of creeping around, dealing with security systems, and digging into blue prints had left me with skills on par with an professional burglar. They were just animals, though. I was more. I had purpose.
This recurring theme is echoed in Lela’s choice of reading – she is a Dostoyevsky fan, and the similarities between herself and Raskolnikov provide frightening glimpses into the fate of Lela and those around her.
The Trajectory of Dreams is a subtle, but haunting (and often darkly humorous) psychological thriller that slowly, unnervingly forces you to reconsider your own relationships. And as cliche as it sounds, it will make you wonder if you can ever really trust or know anyone. After all, social behavioral patterns are learned, not inherent, and even the homicidal, mentally ill members of society can emulate these patterns flawlessly. But sometimes, all it takes is one crack for the foundation of the psyche to crumble, and for Lela White, it is only a matter of time.
Nicole Wolverton is an incredibly talented writer and storyteller, and this novel is sure to earn Wolverton a well-deserved spot on the literary map. I encourage you to pick up a copy of this wonderful debut novel when it is released this March!