Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Little Sleep

Mark Genevich is a Boston private investigator, who gets a strange case. A young woman, a local celebrity who has been on American Idol, comes to his office to hire him – to find her missing fingers. Apparently, her fingers were taken while she slept and replacements left behind. To prove this, she removed the bandages from around her fingers to show him the stitches holding her substitute fingers to her hands. Shockingly, her story seems to be true.

However, Genevich isn’t an ordinary shamus. An accident years before left him with unrepairable injuries. A heavy beard hides the scars on his face, but more importantly he has brain injuries which have left him narcoleptic. Although people think of narcolepsy as a comical disease, with sufferers falling asleep at the drop of a hat, it causes hypnagogic hallucinations which the sufferer cannot tell from reality. When a strange event occurs, Genevich must figure out how much of it is true, and how much of it was a synaptic misfire in his brain.

In this case, when he comes to he finds a folder with lewd photos of the woman in question on his desk. He concludes she must have hired him to find who is behind the extortion and begins to investigate accordingly.

Some readers of mysteries want the written version of a CLUE game, where a dogged, brilliant investigator unravels clues until everything is revealed. These readers may not find The Little Sleep to their liking. The book is far more about Genevich’s struggle to make it through his disability than about Miss Marple figuring out who killed the vicar in the cloakroom.

Although literature has a long history of unreliable narrators, it is less common in books written in the English language. We don’t want to read books that seem to trick us. The Little Sleep not only has a narrator who is unreliable to readers, but to himself as well. At the end of the book, it is still impossible to tell what was real and what was hallucination.

I’m involved in a local reading book (one book a month) and got The Little Sleep added to the schedule. Reaction was sharply divided. Some people were angry with the false leads Genevich followed due to his problem and the fact that he is not, by traditional standards, a particularly good detective. I respectfully suggest they missed the point. We’ve read/heard/seen hundreds of stories where an intrepid gumshoe tracks down a rich man’s missing daughter. This book takes on a deeper issue, Genevich’s fight to live in a world his own mind can no longer process.

It may not be for everyone, and some may find it a challenging read, but The Little Sleep is a superlative book, due to the undeniable skill of Paul Tremblay. He writes so well the book never falls into the trap of being a gimmick, and makes you feel the frustration of the main character trying to be as normal a human being as possible. There is also a good deal of wry humor that keeps the book from being overly glum. I would recommend The Little Sleep to anyone who enjoys horror (what could be more horrible than being betrayed by your own mind?), mysteries, or just anyone who likes a well written book.

Tremblay has announced there will be further adventures of Genevich. I’m very skeptical whether this can be sustained over multiple books, but Tremblay is so talented I’ll definitely give it a shot. {Edit} If I had not been too lazy to do any research, I would have known the name of the sequel is No Sleep Till Wonderland, and will be out in February 2010.

I have to be honest, and admit that I hate the title of The Little Sleep.

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