Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Maintain (Ampersand Books, 2012). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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In the future, thanks to something called “Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation,” sleep is
replaced—for those who can afford a Bed—with Sleep. Nearly instant REM, and in a solid block, is what
Beds offer. One character here, Lila, obtains a broken former floor model, a Bed “that didn’t cut off
automatically at four hours,” that went well beyond the five-hour mark reachable on prescription from a
doctor. Lila is able to sleep for, literally, days; when she wakes up, her elaborate toilette is almost a
resurrection, scrubbing off layers of dead skin and remaking herself afresh.
Lila’s job likewise depends on the technology of the future. A talent scout and promoter, she visits clubs hunting for the next big act, only she does so via a kind of virtual reality program which allows her to “dunk” in to Seoul or Dublin, visiting digital bars in the form of a digital avatar:
It was 10:00 p.m. in Dublin and Molly Malone’s was just starting to get packed. Theoretically there was always enough room for more people in a space like this, especially a big one like Molly’s, and in the worst-case scenario she could turn off the edge clipping filter and her dunk could occupy the same virtual space as someone else’s. If too many dunks were in the same room at once, though, the perimeter of the Dpict would start to get fuzzy and permeable. Dunks would be able to walk through the corners of walls or they’d start spawning onstage right on top of the band, which would piss everyone off and prompt the server administrator to boot all the users, and suddenly everyone would be back at their desks and trying to log back in before the admin put a throttle on the bandwidth.
While Lila’s world is the most entrancing, the most sharply drawn, Life After Sleep also follows an
MD—Doctor Frost—who finds himself losing tracts of time, slipping in and out of his day, often
elbow-deep in someone’s still-palpitating body. Frost’s sleeplessness leads, too, to flashes of rage,
a heightened cynicism about his job. Jeremy, an Iraq vet with some similar issues regarding blackouts, PTSD
triggered by certain sounds, and Max, a man drowning in the quotidian nature of new fatherhood and a stale
marriage (“Milk barf, interestingly, did not just wash out of terrycloth in a simple wash cycle. After two
or three wash and rinse cycles it got close, but Max found himself sniffing to check for any leftover
cheese.”) round out the cast, their trajectories destined to intersect. As Max, in his loneliness and
misery, remembers the world that used to be, Lila lives in a the world that isn’t quite, not yet, a
fantasy-infused reality where virtual drinks can have digital effects coded in—“such as making the
breasts of all the female dunks appear larger,” or allowing avatars to sprout “enormous snowy angel
wings, like a disposable lighter ovation but a thousand times better.” Better living through magnetism,
computers, and, sure, chemicals, too, like the real drink (also available virtually) “Girl Nudge” (or
its male equivalent, “Boy Nudge”) which boasts “(along with plenty of caffeine and sugar) a
powerful testosterone-synthesizing prohormone . . . a vasodilator for sexual enhancement, and an extra enzyme to
break down the estrogen rush that would follow as her body attempted to re-balance her sex hormones. After all,
who wanted to be that weepy girl with sore boobs afterward?” Indeed. And who, in a world of pleasure and
possibility (or a world of constant trauma demanding skillful attention), wants to sleep?
Brand proves equally skillful in portraying relentless desire and baffled weariness—giving voice to those who wish just to sleep and those who feel they never need to Sleep again. The increasingly maniacal Frost has more than a touch of Doctor Benway to him—“You need a little bit of elbow grease, you pussies!” he screams as he yanks “up hard on the muscle fibers that ran the length of the man’s spine, and bit through them with his teeth.”—and poor old Max acts as a stand-in for any sweetly badgered, mild mannered man who never has a chance with someone as openly and vigorously sexual as Lila. He sees her on the street and thinks, “Once upon a time a woman like that wouldn’t have seemed so distant, so irreconcilable to his daily reality. She might once have been someone he could have hoped one day to get to know, and not just another strand of the great impossible that he floated in every day.” Indeed, it is sexuality—Lila’s own, her adventures sharing beds and Beds, as well as the competitive edge of sex in relation to her work, where it becomes part of the hunt, part of the thrill—that marks the rawest nerve here. It is a shame the book ends so soon, like a particularly pleasant and textured dream from which we, as readers, are expelled by the sound of car alarms on the street outside our bedroom window.
Official Mark R. Brand Web Site
Official CCLaP Publishing Web Site