Some fine work here, mostly new, utilizing sleeplessness as a theme or starting point and comprising, the editors note, ""a...

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THE LITERARY INSOMNIAC: Stories and Essays for Sleepless Nights

Some fine work here, mostly new, utilizing sleeplessness as a theme or starting point and comprising, the editors note, ""a catalog of experiences and a way of understanding a massive cultural phenomenon.""hile labeling insomnia a ""cultural phenomenon"" may overstate the case, literary agent Cheney and book editor Hubbert do have a point when they claim that the malady ""is so widespread among writers that it seems almost a prerequisite."" They cite the well-known insomnia of such figures as Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, and the Bront‰s, although none of them are represented in this collection of essays and stories. F. Scott Fitzgerald's ""Sleeping and Waking"" (from The Crack-Up), one of the few older pieces, is as powerful now as it was in the 1930s. In it the alcoholic writer traces his grinding insomnia ""to a single mosquito"" on the 20th floor of a Manhattan hotel. His drunken ""dark hours"" are in sharp contrast to the punchy nights when the novelist Annie Proulx cannot sleep: She reads, writes, even sings (loudly). Mary Morris's story, ""Animal Rescue,"" finds a former city dweller disturbed by the pre-dawn noises of suburbia, most prominently the crying of a frightened cat. A couple of pieces offer unusual variations on the theme: Lynne Sharon Schwartz's deft tale ""Acquainted with the Night,"" about a man who lies awake cataloging ""all the bad things he had ever done,"" and Paul West's viciously funny story, ""Buying the Farm,"" featuring two airline pilots who put each other to sleep by reading ""accident reports . . . somehow banishing the ghost of what might have been by insisting on the worst."" Lynne Tillman chips in with an effective, depressing story of a woman who finally confronts a neighbor whose auto repairs at 5 A.M. serve as a perfect image of the seething aggression behind city life. A good idea and a good mix of old and new, quirky and standard, funny and moving. Worth staying up for.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1996

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1996