Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun (Crown, March 4th, 2014)-People aren’t sleeping at all anymore, but Matt Biggs is. His wife, Carolyn, is slowly going mad under the weight of the insomnia that seems to have gripped the majority of the population. Sleep is now a dirty little secret among those that are still capable of it, and in order to avoid injury, or much worse, they must sneak away and hide to in order to get any sleep at all. The sight of a sleeper can send an insomniac into a murderous rage, and when Biggs attempts to convince his wife, via the use of a few innocuous pills, that a cure has been found, hoping to trick her into sleep, she turns on him with single-minded viciousness. Biggs eventually has to tie her to a chair for his safety, and hers, but when she escapes her bonds, he goes in search of her, and emerges into a world that has descended into chaos.
This is one of those book that when I finished it, I had to just sit there for a minute, wondering what I could read next that could possibly follow it. Calhoun offers a terrifying vision of an apocalypse of a very different kind. We know that when people don’t sleep, bad things can start to happen. In Black Moon, the author concentrates on the psychological breakdown that occurs when sleep ceases to exist. People hallucinate and become unable to distinguish reality from delusion. Speech becomes rearranged and fragmented and people are reduced to their basest forms. I’m sure parallels will be drawn to zombies, especially during attack scenes when the insomniacs converge on someone that is asleep. That said, Black Moon isn’t really an apocalyptic book, at least to me. It’s a love story, and while the focus is on Matt Biggs and his wife Carolyn, it also follows a young man, Chase, in his search for the girl he loves, Felicia. Felicia happens to work at a sleep study center, and we get glimpses of her work there throughout the novel. We also follow Lila, a sleeper who is forced to go on the run after her parents cast her out for fear they will hurt her.
However, this is really Biggs’s book. When he first met Carolyn, he dreamt about her, and in sharing that dream with her, started what would eventually be a fraught, but ultimately loving marriage. Carolyn, a visual artist, had a few secrets though, and these unfold as Biggs searches for her amongst the ruins of humanity. What is always evident is his fierce love for her, and the lengths that he will go to in order to find her are endless. The narrative frequently takes on a dreamlike quality (keep in mind, people are hallucinating), and is ripe with symbolism and meaning. Calhoun, who has a musical background, certainly makes terrifyingly good music on the page, and the result is brutal, surreal, and gorgeous. The characters’ threads do intertwine in the end, and the conclusion, and what it reveals, hit me like a sledgehammer. It’s not ironic at all that a book about insomnia will keep you up at night reading the whole damn thing in one sitting, is it?
Simply put: stunning book, stunning ending, stunningly talented author. Put this one on your Must list.