Trading Dreams at Midnight
By Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Reviewed by Jen Karsbaek for Reader Views (09/08)
Fantastic Character-Driven Novel, 4.5 stars
Nan, Neena, and Tish all had their lives changed by Freeda. Her wild joy when she was manic, her disappearances when she was depressed, Freeda’s mental illness shaped in a very real way the lives of her mother and daughters.
“Trading Dreams at Midnight” is the story of an African American family in Philadelphia dealing with the mental illness of one of the family members. Nan and her husband noticed from the time that Freeda was a little girl that she had a propensity for extreme mood swings. They were almost not surprised when she disappeared for some length of time before returning with an infant, Neena, the name of whose father she never revealed. Before too long, Neena had a younger sister, Tish. The two of them dealt with living with a single mother who would frequently disappear for long periods of time, leaving them to be taken care of by their grandmother.
Neena’s is the primary point of view in “Trading Dreams at Midnight,” although Nan’s point of view gets a fair amount of time as well. This is an especially interesting decision, as they are the two characters who are most antagonistic to each other throughout the course of the story. There is a good deal of jumping around in time in the narration, however McKinney-Whetstone uses this device extremely well and without confusing the reader as to order of events.
This is an extremely well written novel. It is definitely not action packed, but is very character-driven with a well thought out storyline. The more periphery characters – like Freeda and Tish – were well defined but explored very much. Nan and Neena, however, were extremely complex and realistic.
“Trading Dreams at Midnight” dealt with difficult issues of mental illness, family connections, alcoholism, racism, and homelessness. At times it was dark, but the lovely prose kept it from becoming overly depressing. I would absolutely recommend this book to all who like well-written, character-driven novels and I will be looking for more of McKinney-Whetstone’s work.