Dreams of Molly is a slim, somewhat befuddling novel. Narrated by a man (an “impatient” writer) who “dreams” constantly of his ex-wife (the Molly of the title), each night/chapter finds him in strange and complex situations, all circling around her mirage. Each chapter ends abruptly, as if being pulled out of a dream, and so the novel is elliptical, chasing and never finding either Molly or any sense of stability. Baumbach is a word magician; he expertly builds suspense very quickly, though like most dreams, he rarely concludes or fulfills in any expected manner.
Divided into three parts—which take us from a writer’s retreat in Italy to an interrogation cell to a cabin in the remote wilderness—each chapter is numbered by night. The opening chapter is the “35th Night” (what happened on nights 1 through 34 we’ll never know). They move forward sequentially from there, until the second part, when the nights jump around out of order. This is fitting, given that the narrator is being held captive and interrogated—in his cell, he has no concept of time. His dead parents visit him, then Molly, and despite his deep desire to, he never finds himself able to tell the same story twice, or the right story once, or even the story he expects the interrogators want to hear. Part Three finds the narrator alone in the woods, then becoming the father to a boy he’s never met and husband to the boy’s mother, later trying to escape them and wandering along with a friendly bear and stumbling into a war reenactment that is terrifyingly close to the real thing. Like the dream world, his adventures amuse and confuse, titillate and repulse.
Dreams of Molly ends as suddenly as it begins, the hapless narrator plodding steadily onward. The Molly of the title may drive his subconscious, but she is ultimately just an excuse to examine the elusive line between love and sex, lies and truth, real life and dreams.