Kirkus Reviews QR Code
SLEEPWALK by Dan Chaon


by Dan Chaon

Pub Date: May 24th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-250-17521-2
Publisher: Henry Holt

A mercenary’s life is upended by the appearance of his (perhaps) daughter and a series of attendant problems.

The narrator of Chaon’s disappointing fourth novel is a 50-year-old fixer/courier hired to perform “petty acts of industrial espionage or [mess] with the results of a local school board election.” (The near-future U.S. is mostly offscreen, but pandemics, recessions, and blockades led by hair-trigger private militias are disruptive enough to necessitate such independent contractors.) Billy (one of his many aliases) is interrupted on the road by repeated calls from Cammie, a young woman claiming not only that she’s his daughter via a sperm donation made in his youth, but that he has many more offspring besides. Billy is troubled not just by the news, but by the breach of security that allowed Cammie to reach him, and plenty more paranoia ensues. Is Cammie an agent of somebody he’s fallen afoul of or a bot? Flashbacks to Billy’s past explain his various reasons for anxiety, from his mother on down, and Chaon gives his lead an appealingly noirish, skeptical voice. In his earlier fiction, Chaon demonstrated a talent for conjuring dark moods and characters with fractured families, so a dystopian tale that reshuffles traditional stories about midlife crises and long-lost children would seem a fine fit for him. But this novel never quite finds its footing, shifting from backstory to an increasingly convoluted assortment of cult types and mercenaries; it doesn’t help that the central relationship between Billy and Cammie is conducted via phone, which brings a chilly distance to the narrative. The technology Chaon imagines is diverting—large, menacing, farm-protecting robots, suspiciously adorable surveillance drones—but the most tender relationship is a B-plot involving Billy and his dog, whose travails are sometimes more interesting than the humans'.

All the ingredients of a dark speculative tale imperfectly assembled.