I defy any reader to put this book down once you start it. Especially when the mysterious Mrs. Funk arrives to care for the children and run the house. Ms. Messud makes this all sound like juicy gossip whispered between mothers at the playground ... A Dream Life is a comment on and an evisceration of privilege. To put it plainly, a fish out of water story. It’s also too short (said the greedy literary snob). I wish it were 500 pages longer because I want to know what Teddy and Alice are up to right now.
... [a] triumph ... A Dream Life feels like an afternoon fever dream, which those who have suffered through COVID may recognize. And the social structures that fall prey to a slowly thinning veil feel like an emotionally tense situation that perhaps mirrors some of our own isolation and trust issues arising from the pandemic. This arresting novella imagines that the dream life of most is the dream life of only those who can balance themselves on the rocky course of the lies required to live in such a way.
At the heart of the book is Alice’s awkward (if sometimes giddy) transformation into a member of the aristocracy. Ms. Messud is excellent on the complications of finding and managing household employees and hosting garden parties—or 'fetes,' as the upper-crust primly call them. Carefully observed domestic details are thrown into relief by the sense of disorientation that undermines the narrative ... Not all of A Dream Life strikes me as successful. The ending, especially, is oddly anticlimactic considering the richness of the book’s characters and conflicts. But Ms. Messud is clearly well suited to the novella’s compact form, alive to the specifics of the sentences but able to draw back to see the mystery of the whole.
A comedy of employment errors ensues, limned with Messud’s characteristic tart, cogently detailed realism ... This might be sad if readers were encouraged to feel any empathy for Alice, but Messud takes a cool, detached tone, emphasizing the humor of her dilemmas. The ending suggests that Alice is finally taking some control of her life, reinforcing the overall impression that the stakes aren’t very high here. Messud’s eye for class distinctions and gender expectation is as sharp as ever in this enjoyable minor effort.
Messud...offers an intriguing if slight domestic drama ... Messud keeps readers on tenterhooks waiting for a shoe to drop, and when it does, everything recalibrates. The story may be slim, but the writing is crisp...and so is Messud’s attention to detail. This is worth savoring.