James FitzGerald

Dreaming Sally

A true story of first love, sudden death and long shadows.

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Published August 28, 2018

by Random House Canada.

Also available as an AUDIOBOOK (click here).

"Dreaming Sally" is a true story of first love, sudden death and synchronicity set against the countercultural turmoil of the 1960s. The book is the third and last in a thematic trilogy of creative non-fiction.

By 1968, the fabled Summer of Love has fragmented into global violence and despair – the murders of King and Kennedy, My Lai, Paris, Prague, Chicago.

The personal is political. Consumed by his passion for Sally Wodehouse, his teenaged sweetheart, 21 year old George Orr awakens one morning from a compelling dream impossible to ignore: 

Sally will die while traveling through Europe this summer, and I am powerless to stop it.  

On August 13, 1968, when the catastrophe unfolds exactly as foretold, George is cast like Orpheus into the Underworld, and whether he will return from the dark grip of the uncanny, no one can predict.  

When the dream came
I held my breath
with my eyes closed.
I went insane,
like a smoke ring day
when the wind blows.
Now I won’t be back
till later on
if I do come back at all.
— Buffalo Springfield, On the Way Home, 1968

George and Sally, 1967

James and Sally , Rome, July 1968

Sally and James, top of the Schilthorn, Switzerland, July 1968

Reader Responses

Please accept my compliments for your work, “Dreaming Sally”, a book of Proustian elegance…Your trilogy will in my opinion become a marker in explaining Upper Canadian social, civic and civil values in the second half of the 20th century which I suspect will intrigue future historians.

MONTE, Toronto

What an exquisitely and painfully personal tale masterfully told with such rich detail of those extraordinary, never-to-repeated times. I found yours and George’s stories fascinating and compelling…uncanny how many parallels there are between you. For what you set out to achieve, from concept to delivery, you’ve nailed it.

DAVID, Ottawa

I couldn’t put this book down. First of all, it is so beautifully written; sometimes it felt like reading poetry. James' very deeply revealing story of his own struggle in relationships with woman over his whole life I found deeply, deeply moving. And the way he wrote about how Sally’s death affected both he and her boyfriend George was so raw, honest, captivating, and stirring, emotionally and psychologically. This book brought me closer to my self and affected me far more than I could have guessed.

ROBIN, Toronto

Your book is one of the most moving I have ever, ever read, James. It’s also among the most beautiful, and beautifully written. The depth of emotion, the heartbreak and the sublime, blows one away. A magnificent book.

ELISE, Toronto

You have written a profound and very moving book…your use of Greek myth is so appropriate because they so knew that when we open ourselves to an artistic rendering of tragedy, we allow ourselves to participate with a universal human experience and in so doing we undergo a small transformation each time…

KEN, Toronto

A very beautiful book. When I finished it this morning, the world seemed so quiet, which I think means I was deep inside with your story and the reflection it inspired…As a fiction writer who shunts all this “stuff” into imaginary lives, I take my hat off to your courage, perception and poetic ability to tie things together.

JOHN, Montreal

A compelling read, the travelogue/social history aspects were fascinating, and the personal revelations brave and profound. I loved the Orphic mysteries, and was glad to get “woke” on the notions of “unheimlich” and synchronicity.

DENNIS, Sarnia, Ontario

Your book arrived on Monday and I started reading on Tuesday. I didn’t put it down until I’d finished it at 3 am Wednesday. Before launching into it, I wondered if I could connect to a story about a girl I’d never met and how successful you would be in taking us back to a summer in 1968. Would it be fifty years of nostalgia? Could I even remember that far back, let alone relate to those times?

I was blown away on so many levels. I was transported back to 1968 and the times: the Vietnam War, the music, the restlessness, the desire to travel, the search for something (not knowing what, of course, or what lay beneath), the being on the cusp of adulthood (both wanting and resisting independence), first loves, sexual desire/fear, and most of all the dreams and the hopes. Which is why the title is so brilliant: for Sally’s truncated life marked a shattering of future dreams and hopes for everyone involved with her. The trauma and survivor guilt lived on, acted out in so many ways until it was fully talked about: the coldness of repressed upbringings in Toronto, the rigid adherence to conformity and silence, the traumas of past wars and losses masked by alcohol and later drugs — the backdrop to what exploded the sixties.

This was also a book about a haunting premonition and a sensitive, intuitive young man with very few outlets for emotional expression. “Dreaming Sally” challenges us to face the motherlode (first love), the sequel to “What Disturbs Our Blood” (facing father). I liked the way the chapters weaved between you and George (silent rivals) with mother always in the background. Interesting that “Disturb” is the title pertaining to Dad and “Dreaming” the title for Mother. Destruction and Desire?

The book has a universal appeal. It is not just about Sally and her tragic death, but desire and love and dreams and the struggle to escape the grip of the first family and create one’s own family, whatever form that might take. The first family also carries the weight of generations – what a familylode!

Congratulations on a brilliant book – clever, courageous and compelling. It left me feeling haunted, disturbed and very sad: all the trauma, loss, broken dreams and hearts, shattered lives, and yet the possibility of love and reconciliation comes through. But it requires a commitment to truth, authenticity and working through the pain – a lifetime of working through. And at such cost.

SARAH, Dublin, Ireland

I found your book incredibly moving, funny, wise and profound. You write with such raw honesty and pure poetry. You deftly weave together the stands of past, present and future along with capacity to take the reader on the European Odyssey, reflecting the mood and energy of the exploratory Sixties. I felt myself there with you on the trip, harking back to the painful childhood experiences and the loneliness due to a mother incapable of loving. How brave of you to write this book… I know I speak for a great many readers in thanking you for making the effort, living through the pain and creating a work that speaks to us all.

LEAH, Toronto

I am beyond deeply touched by your book, waves of tears and laughter alternating and moving through me still… I found myself pulled back into my own late teens, ripped open to the impossibilities of my own hopes at the time, and catapulted forward into current day healing…Your honesty, passion, and pulsing poetry, both in the book and on stage, are beautiful and inspiring.

URSULA, Toronto

Taking all your books as a whole, I don’t quite know why you haven’t been assassinated. You wrote a phrase — “the unpardonable sin of pulling back the curtain of male vulnerability” — yes. That curtain and the curtain of Old Boys criminal viciousness, and the truly appalling spiritual emptiness at the heart of so much of what we continue to call “privilege” — it is, really, so brave of you. It took my breath away reading about the barbarous cruelty that passed for family and school life. The passage of the teacher praising you for your Jane Eyre paper brought tears to my eyes…


The dynamics of the long, intergenerational flow of injury and redemption are set out with disarming honesty and lucidity…”Sally” and “Blood” are difficult books to pigeon-hole and I doubt I would have recognized them on the library shelf as the gems I should pick up. The cover notes can’t begin to describe the span and depth of your investigation, which in my experience are seldom reached in biography and autobiography. It takes courage to write like this.

BRIAN, Toronto

I ate this book up! A potentially heavy story so skillfully and delicately written with great sensitivity. I was constantly reminded of my own Toronto teenaged years occurring at exactly the same time…If “Dreaming Sally” is the fruit of a ‘dreamer and loser’ [the words of James’ mother], bring on the dreamers and losers! A compelling, engaging, artfully written book.

JANET, Gibsons, B.C.

A standout read. FitzGerald's writing style is what elevates this book to prize-winner status. An earlier work, “What Disturbs Our Blood”, won the Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize for its recounting of a family mired in addiction and mental illness yet responsible for important medical advances. “Dreaming Sally” is also a walkback into the past with the same cutting-edge literary precision, but this time the threaded theme is motherhood. Although the premise is of a young girl's death predicted before it happened, what happens to a young man deprived of maternal care is the heart of this powerful book. You will laugh. You will cry. FitzGerald is a wordsmith like no other.

SUSAN, Montreal

The concept of death, and the ‘dead mother’, burned a hole into my soul, and you brilliantly summarize it: “For years, Sally, I thought you were my first love, my first sudden death. But I was wrong. You were my second, and it is you, in the present, who made me see it.” It feels like the theme of the book.

Your sentence “I tender my resignation and resign myself to tenderness” brought me to tears. It is something we must all do to survive. It is the rigid tree that snaps in life’s storms, not the tender, supple one. Although the book’s major theme is mothers, and the loss or death of them, the triangle of George, Sally and James in the midst of the sexual awakening of the ‘60s, it is also about tenderness, its lack, its necessary presence. And even if the ‘60s were a time of protest, those years were underlined by a passionate love for the truth. And true love is tender.

The last 60 pages pull a tremendous punch. It’s unexpected, almost like being taken down a vortex into the womb. I felt like a fish swimming among many others through the barrier reef — I almost typed barrier “relief.” I was surrounded by so many universal truths, feelings, memories. I can only imagine how gut-wrenching and brave it must have been for you to write this last part — you speak what many of us dare not admit to…

TERESSA, Orangeville, Ontario

I just finished re-reading Dreaming Sally and have a much better appreciation for the unfolding of the story and the layering of personal revelations that you reach. By the end, I can understand when you write, "I have merely finished myself off as a book writer." I commend you for the incredible work you have done personally over the years to grapple with your personal and family demons and for the effort it has taken you to share your insights, particularly in the second half of the book which is such a compelling read. 

DAVID, Victoria, B.C.

I have just devoured “Dreaming Sally.” Could not put it down. I began in the morning yesterday and read into the cold, wee hours of the next day, and I think of it still.

SUSAN, Toronto

Your book was really hard to put down. I admired your ability to tell a complex story within a larger complex story, making the reader feel they were inside the story, not an outsider peering in. As in “What Disturbs Our Blood”, you have an astonishing way of drawing the reader in. These are powerful books that don’t evaporate after reading.

Eya, Erin, Ontario

“Dreaming Sally” is a book for all of us of a certain age. It has taken me on a powerful and deeply thoughtful journey cover to cover. Some choose their books; this book chose me. But the most powerful super-text of all was your giving voice to the presence of spiritual/rhythmic truths and interventions in our lives. Articulating such clearly brings growth and freedom. Some say the author of a book is like God. If so, I hope you can say, “This is my book in whom I am well pleased.” But may I observe, it also reads as if pre-written, and you managed to catch up with it in August 2018. And you don’t have to do it again.

SANDY, Kingston, Ontario

Your writing is so honest, at times searingly honest, and the observations that arise from your self-and-other awareness are remarkably poignant and human. I witnessed as a reader/writer that it’s OK: one can bear the most uncomfortable realizations, admit to the most “unconventional” thoughts, expose awful realities about your family and friends, and the reader will accept and welcome all this as the gifts that they are. It’s all part of your story and I was grateful for the telling.

MICHELE, Toronto

What a remarkable journey of the human experience, and you have generously invited us to join you. Dreaming Sally as she embraces us at the crux of our being, somehow manages to hold us warmly throughout the fray, and sets us down gently with a profundity that leaves us forever changed. What impressed me about the book from the beginning has been your softness, your willingness to show your feelings, your vulnerability. That you have come from where you do, as revealed in “Dreaming Sally”, tells me that you’ve done an almost insurmountable amount of work on the manifestation of your own person. The warmth you emanate, despite your often cold and unfeeling family life, despite “the old boys”, is such a gift for those of us who are still here to bask in your presence after your long and difficult (and fascinating) journey. 

ELDO, Dawson City, Yukon