THE LITERARY INSOMNIAC by Elyse Cheney

THE LITERARY INSOMNIAC

Stories and Essays for Sleepless Nights

KIRKUS REVIEW

 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.'' While 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 Brontâs, 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. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-385-47771-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1996