Although exhausted from a previous assignment, Joanna agrees to her agent’s suggestion that she document photographically a trip from London to Venice aboard the Orient Express. Once in London, she goes to the home of her British agent, Henry. During the past ten years Joanna and Henry have become good friends; yet both harbor a secret desire for something deeper which they have not yet acknowledged to each other.
Later in her London stay, while she is out taking photographs, Joanna runs into Tyler, a former lover of hers. After dinner at his flat, they make passionate love. The following evening, Joanna and Henry too make love, the barrier that had prevented them from expressing their mutual attraction apparently gone. The next morning, Joanna, confused by her conflicting emotions, slips out without a word to Henry and boards the Orient Express.
Aboard the train Joanna quickly establishes relationships with her fellow travelers: The beautiful yet lonely Lucienne; Anne, a woman who has lost her daughter to drugs; and Jackie, a precocious fourteen-year-old boy who is unappreciated by his family. From them, Joanna learns about her own potential. She finishes her trip a different woman, ready to love and be loved.
Charlotte Vale Allen begins DREAM TRAIN with a dream Joanna has about being trapped in the bathroom of her burning apartment. There, surrounded by flames, Joanna begs for her life. Later, Allen places Joanna in a situation in which she is, in a sense, trapped again, this time not by flames but by a train that takes her from London to Venice and back again. In Venice, she is again surrounded, enclosed by canals and tight little streets. Within these enclosed places, Joanna must come to terms with herself, and she begins to understand what is important in life.
With self-assured, deft strokes, Allen depicts contemporary problems. She questions the possibility of love in these times and also examines the way people deal with such emotional traumas as the loss of a parent. The experiences of Joanna and others on the Orient Express provide lessons in dealing with these problems.