By this time, a few months after being published, folks will have told you that Sleepless is about a dystopian near future/present; that it is about a cop investigating a crime; that it is about gaming worlds; that it is a cross genre book. All of this is true in its own way. But what Sleepless is really about is fear. It’s about the fear of a man who is confronted with the fundamental world change that comes with the arrival of his first child. Whether that man is Parker Haas the protagonist or Charlie Huston the author is up to you. I suspect it’s the latter though. When you have a child one of the things that you do is start to really think about the future if you haven’t already and if you have then you think about it differently. You look around and you cast out all the different possibilities. You look at the world with different eyes. You hold vulnerability incarnate in your arms. And it fills you with fear. Fear is one of the things that they don’t tell you about being a parent. Sleepless is a book written out of that fear.
It seems to be gauche these days in some circles to talk about the life of an author in a review and further still to speculate and or analyze how it has influences his or her work. No one is talking about going through the author’s trash but the events of a life lived should not be off limits when it comes to taking a closer look at the work that came out of it. And the simple fact of the matter is that Huston is a now a Dad and I know where he is coming from.
Story wise Sleepless is a detective story told as the world as we know it is crumbling and society is failing. People are becoming afflicted with a disease that does what the title says. There are massive conspiracies at play here as the power brokers determine who is to be at the top of the new pile. The plot proper has shades of Philip Dick and some others. Sleepless is told in a rotating pattern of three different styles. We get a third person narration of the main protag, a detective, a first person POV of a killer for hire and the first person diary entries of the detective. The characters are layered and deeply felt as Huston has become very adept at dealing with the nuances of his characters feelings and emotions.
In the way that Chandler laid out Park is a man of honor and the best man in his world but unlike some of the other parts of the essay we come to see the intimate moments of his private life. His private life is such an integral part of who he is that to not see it would be a disservice. Charlie Huston knows how to finish a novel strong and Sleepless is his strongest yet. Its strength lies in how he immerses us in the fabric of his life and the love that’s present in it. When the end finally comes and the fabric of his life is so fundamentally altered it traverses into the realm of tragedy.
One of the things that is interesting is that after an insane publication schedule he doesn’t have anything on the near horizon. After writing and publishing 11 novels in 6 years he is rounding a significant bend. Let’s say that again 11 novels in 6 years. Crime writers are often fond of saying that the way to write a novel is to put your ass in the chair and keep doing it every day no matter what. I’ve seen this writing strategy denigrated by others as reducing art to craft. I call gas face. At the end of the day you side with craft because craft gets the job done. 11 novels in 6 years. That’s pulp baby. Pulp Noir.
Check it out though. Huston doesn’t have another book scheduled to come out this year, or next. His next book, whatever it may be, will be coming out from Mulholland in 2012. Huston has taken the rare opportunity in his meteoric rise over the last couple of years to slow down, take a breath. With a breather in sight it’s exciting to think of the possibilities of what his fiction will do next. I can’t help but feel like we are on the precipice of something great.
If you read Charlie Huston’s novels in order of publication, from Caught Stealing to Sleepless, you will see a progression from hungry up and comer to one of the most exciting writers we have.