NOTHING by Blake Butler


A Portrait of Insomnia
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A story of sleeplessness told through lyrical bursts of prose, science, fleeting thoughts, and haphazard punctuation.

Atlanta-based novelist Butler (There Is No Year, 2011, etc.) attempts to comprehend the bewildering “aimless mental spin” resulting from a consecutive stream of restless nights. Conveyed through footnotes and streamlined paragraphs, the author recollects his troubled, paranoid childhood terrorized by Stephen King novels and sleepless nights spent “rubbing along walls” for seams in the house. When sleep came, it was accomplished by contorting himself beneath his parents’ bed and was often accompanied by night terrors, a horrific condition believed to be inherited from his mother, who documented the family in handwritten journals. He describes his present-day struggle to achieve slumber as a multitiered ritual rife with minute physical nuances each harboring the potential to allow him either a good night’s sleep or one spent writhing in frustration. Once awake, however, his “busy brain” actively nursed a buzzing Internet obsession with search engines or Facebook, “jumbling through nothing, staring at images of head after new head.” Particularly harrowing are sections detailing the author’s unimaginable near-six-day stretch without sleep and the eerie visions of an ominous male phantom lurking outside his bedroom window. Exasperatingly ineffective trials with sleeping pills, hypnosis videos and a walk-in clinic evaluation only compounded Butler’s dilemma. A slick combination of dreamscapes, stream-of-consciousness writing and referential scientific data on the compelling origins of insomnia disorders coalesce in a narrative that’s initially intimidating and demanding in its unorthodox delivery yet becomes compelling once Butler establishes a narrative cadence.

A weird, waking-dream of a memoir superbly illustrating the relentless inner spin of the insomniac.


Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-199738-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2011


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