Have you heard of this book Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun? Go read it. Right now. Yes, I mean right now. It’s about how insomnia becomes a viral plague spreading across the world pitting those effected against the few remaining who can still sleep and dream. It makes you wonder how real is your reality.
Written in some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read in a long time, this poetic, haunting, exceptionally told story follows three main characters in a end-of-the-world saga that feels so real, so subtle, so scary without any zombies, vampires, or otherworldly creatures to blame.
In the end, there are no answers, and that was fine with me. The ideas sparked by this book rang so true and while I want to know more, to know why, to know what will happen after “the end,” I am thoroughly satisfied with this book. And that’s a hard thing to accomplish.
From the publisher:
Insomnia has claimed everyone Biggs knows. Even his beloved wife, Carolyn, has succumbed to the telltale red-rimmed eyes, slurred speech and cloudy mind before disappearing into the quickly collapsing world. Yet Biggs can still sleep, and dream, so he sets out to find her. He ventures out into a world ransacked by mass confusion and desperation, where he meets others struggling against the tide of sleeplessness. Chase and his buddy Jordan are devising a scheme to live off their drug-store lootings; Lila is a high school student wandering the streets in an owl mask, no longer safe with her insomniac parents; Felicia abandons the sanctuary of a sleep research center to try to protect her family and perhaps reunite with Chase, an ex-boyfriend. All around, sleep has become an infinitely precious commodity. Money can’t buy it, no drug can touch it, and there are those who would kill to have it. However, Biggs persists in his quest for Carolyn, finding a resolve and inner strength that he never knew he had.
The biggest question running through the narrative is: what is real versus what is a dream? I loved the idea that since humans spend so much of their time sleeping and that if they don’t get enough sleep, their dreams will start haunting their waking life, which begs the question: are our dreams more real than our reality? Unreliable narrators abound, the whole story could be a dream, but not in a “gotcha” kind of way that feels cheap at the end.
Time becomes elusive and the parts of the story are not told in the same place in time, but more around the same place in time.
Science and technology, which are often blamed for the end-of-the-world, offer the only hope outside of the remaining “dreamers” who can still sleep. Human nature is unmatched against the terror of insomnia.
The only part I didn’t relate to and didn’t enjoy as much were the sections about Chase. They started before insomnia grips the city but after we’ve already been introduced to its horror through Biggs and his wife. This made it hard to connect to his journey and he was fairly flat as a character, with only one drive: to reunite with his girlfriend and use Viagra to help him with his erectile dysfunction and finally have sex with her. In fact, all the characters are fairly one-note, but it made sense given that the human race is on the brink of extinction and everyone is operating at survival settings. Because Chase spends most of his time away from the action of the coming plague, the stakes didn’t feel very high and so I was less invested in his character and journey.
I loved the insights we have into the characters who are suffering from the insomnia. The way Calhoun portrays the garbled thinking, the syntax errors when speaking, is brilliant on the level of Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer – another book you should go read, right now!
I’ve had times in my life where being sleep-deprived made me lose time, made me see things, made me feel like I was pushing against a wall just to speak or move. The idea that this could be a permanent and debilitating and ultimately fatal plague felt all-too real. Bravo.
KENNETH CALHOUN has had stories published in The Paris Review, Tin House, and the 2011 Pen/O. Henry Prize Collection, among others. He lives in Boston, where he is a graphic design professor at Lasell College. Black Moon is his first novel. You can find out more about him on his website.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.