Broken Sleep came up as a recommended read for me, presumably due to Bruce Bauman’s association with one of my favourite authors Steve Erickson. It is described as an experimental, kaleidoscopic epic, encompassing art, madness, philosophy and identity, which sounds like exactly the kind of book I enjoy.
‘There are many dimensions of ‘reality’ we don’t understand. Odd things occur that can’t be explained. That does not make you a candidate for a mental breakdown. I believe in what can be proved and I’m agnostic on what cannot be disproved. I do not subscribe to past life memories, extraterrestrials, time travel, ESP, or any other speculative sci-fi concoctions. That doesn’t rule them out for eternity. It rules them out for now. There’s more in here – he pointed to his head and then to the heavens – than there is out there.”
It is written from three different perspectives; two of which are first person an one is third. Salome Savant is a sex-obsessed artist who has been in and out of psychiatric care for most of her life; Moses Teumer is the son she believes was stillborn, who is now seeking a bone marrow transplant from his biological family; and Ambitious Mindswallow is bassist for rock superstars The Insatiables and a close friend of Salome’s beloved son Alchemy.
Despite the head-jumping, this isn’t at all difficult to follow. The characters are colourful and relatable (with the possible exception of Alchemy the rock star who can do no wrong), so the technique succeeds in giving a multi-faceted view of events. I don’t consider it to do anything ground-breaking in terms of style though, and its tendency towards anecdote over immersing the reader in a scene is a little disappointing. The character back stories are interesting for sure, but I was expecting a gripping plot to be laid over them and unfortunately that never comes.
Strangely, Broken Sleep as a title seems to have very little to do with the content; the Savant family do share a tendency to slip into daydreams and sleep poorly, but this is alluded to only sporadically and I didn’t consider it a key part of the story.
Politics, art, medicine, corruption, the press, the music industry, insanity, and family life are all incorporated into Broken Sleep. The multiple points of view enable us to see each of these from hugely varying perspectives, which is a big task to take on as a writer. For example we are shown the formation of a left-wing political party beside the musings of a former Nazi officer with no regrets. Elsewhere, we observe someone who does not believe in time living every moment to the full, beside someone who is running out of time but never using what he has to make it count.
The problem perhaps is that the themes are too broad to be meaningful in any one area. It almost has something to say about nature vs nurture, and it almost has something to say about the impact of personal relationships vs the impact of politics on our lives and our sense of control: but not quite.
“Inside every human, without exception, resides the essence of what moralists call evil. Herbert Spencer, in classic English linguistic perfidy, declared this drive to be ‘survival of the fittest’. I witnessed this exhibition of spirit by the delighted participation of women and children in acts of murder and debauchery. This empowering drive to vanquish and control is encoded in our blood and far outweighs courage or human generosity, or, for Christ’s sake, loving the enemy.”
What it does manage to demonstrate, I think, is how subjective life is. Everyone thinks their own logic is perfectly defensible, and everyone thinks they are the ones who need to wake others up to truth. Everyone tries to protect their loved ones in the best way they can, and everyone is torn apart by being lied to and having their worldview turned upside down.
‘Reason is powerless to repair the ruptured heart.’
I did enjoy Broken Sleep on the whole. Although it is hard to justify the length (620 pages), it is a straightforward read with short chapters, and I kept turning the pages once I’d picked it up. It’s just unfortunate there is very little in the way of suspense, or even open questions to make the reader desperate to go back for more.