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Dreaming Sally by James FitzGerald - Guest review by Sarah Cassidy

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James FitzGerald is one of four authors reading in the Parry Sound Festival of Authors being held at the Charles W. Stockey Centre on October 24 at 7:30 PM. FitzGerald will be joined by Katherine Ashenburg, Wayne Grady, and Merilyn Simonds. Tickets are available through the Charles W. Stockey Centre website and box office.  

Two topics that I am foreign to are the 1960s and the genre of non-fiction. Both felt a bit distant, unknown, and not terribly exciting for me to look into. One book changed that opinion for me, “Dreaming Sally.”

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James FitzGerald has written two previous works of non-fiction on Upper Canada College and on his family’s history of mental illness. After reading his most recent book, “Dreaming Sally,” the other books have immediately gone onto my to-read pile.

“Dreaming Sally” shares the memories of James FitzGerald and George Orr, two men who loved the same young woman. James and Sally’s parents frequented the same area of cottage country, and so the two met at age six and shared summer memories over the years. George met Sally in their late teens, and they shared a committed a romantic relationship. Sally’s charm ultimately left both men smitten.

In the summer of 1968, James cannot believe his luck when—after some years apart—Sally is also on the roster for the “Odyssey,” a European tour with a small band of Canada’s privileged youth. Although Sally is all but engaged to George, who is back at home, James and Sally play couple while abroad. James longs for Sally to be only his, and meanwhile George longs for Sally to come home.

Before Sally departed, George had an impending sense that she was doomed, quite literally: he had an unshakeable dream that she would die on the trip. And in a terrible act of fate, Sally does die on the trip. The book, which up to this point is a portrait of the 1960s, then depicts the long shadows cast by a departed life.

James and George grieve in different ways, but both carry the weight of Sally’s loss for decades. Sally’s death lingers over new relationships, career changes, and follows the men across cities and time.

“Dreaming Sally” is a beautiful memoir. Despite the heaviness of the topic, I was captivated. The telling of James and Sally’s Odyssey taught me that the generation I currently see as responsible “older adults,” were once rowdy revellers, not unlike the stage of life I’m in now. Who knew?

James FitzGerald seamlessly weaves together the topics of young love, loss, and grief, all the while painting a portrait of the times—whether it be the 1960s, 70s, or later decades. His book is human, compassionate, and highly enjoyable to read.



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