April 5th, 2009


The Little Sleep

How do you solve a mystery, let alone collect accurate clues, when you suffer from hallucinations so realistic you can't tell what's real and what's not? That's the predicament in which South Boston P.I. Mark Genevich finds himself in pgtremblay's debut novel, The Little Sleep. Genevich has narcolepsy, a neurological scar from a car accident nearly a decade ago, and as a result he never quite knows when he's dreaming or awake. Not the best situation for a P.I.: at the start, he can't even remember who hired him or what the case is, only that there's an envelope of nudie photos on his desk and notes he himself wrote while asleep that he can't decipher.

To his credit, Tremblay makes Genevich kind of a lousy detective -- you get the sense he wouldn't be that much better at his job even if he didn't suffer from narcolepsy -- but one it's extremely easy to root for. Genevich has a sharp tongue, his barbed comments the only defense mechanism he's got when he knows he's overpowered or outgunned, and interestingly, Tremblay allows Genevich's attempts at hardboiled dialogue to be snappy in his dream states but kind of lame in reality, as if the dream Genevich stepped out of the best film noir while the real Genevich is the equivalent of a costumed attendee at a convention celebrating P.I. fiction.

It's a brilliant concept, and I love how the plot -- not just the title -- plays on Chandler's famous novel The Big Sleep. Tremblay's got an absolute mastery of his prose, too. The novel is a feast of language and imagery, and at under 300 pages, it's a quick read that doesn't disappoint.

I can't wait for the next book in the Genevich series, No Sleep Til Wonderland. In the meantime, check out The Little Sleep. Highly recommended, not because Paul Tremblay is a friend of mine, but because he's one of the best new writers I've read -- if the word new can include a writer whose fiction I've been reading for the better part of a decade -- and The Little Sleep is proof of that.