When artist Isabelle Copley finally receives a misdirected letter from her best friend Kathy who died five years before, her memory is called back to the early years of their life together in Newford. Eighteen-year-old "Izzy" had been astonished when the famous yet reclusive artist Vincent Adjani Rushkin chose her to be his apprentice. Soon after, Isabelle discovered that one of her paintings had provided a gateway for an ancient spirit from "the before" to cross over into modern day Newford. When Isabelle met the spirit, John Sweetgrass, she was drawn into a relationship with him, yet still felt she couldn't trust him. Rushkin had warned her that John meant her harm, and every time she tried to ask John if he was "real," he'd become evasive, and finally, angry. Through their breakup and the hard times afterward, Kathy was always there for Izzy. Kathy, a writer constantly struggling to overcome the trauma of her horrific childhood, managed to hold together their circle of friends while following her dream of establishing a foundation for children in need. When Izzy's art continued to draw more spirits from the before, the only person Izzy confided in was Kathy. After Kathy's death, the remaining friends grew apart. Gradually, Izzy came to distrust Rushkin, all the while missing John, who first warned her against her teacher. Not knowing whom to trust or the difference between reality and fantasy, memory and dream, Isabelle finally resolves to discover the truth, and her search leads her into danger that may destroy her and those she loves.
Memory and Dream presents Charles de Lint's unique brand of "urban fantasy." However, the characters seem at least as important to him as the concepts; they are all strikingly real (even the "spirits" such as John and Cosette). The book offers the reader much to think about in terms of the relationship between the artist and his/her work and the reality or truth that works of art present.
Reviewed by mh, 11/98. Other reviews by mh.