An ultimately fatal disease, one that steals the ability of its victims to sleep, has infected approximately 10% of the world’s population. Not only is there no known cure for the disease, even how it claims its victims is still a mystery. Those infected by the disease generally survive for a year before succumbing to the disease’s final stage, one causing such a painful death that it has come to be known simply as “the suffering.” Long before death, however, victims have lost much of their memory and their ability to focus on the present.
It is the summer of 2010 and Los Angeles is a city under siege. Armed, gated and barricaded communities have sprung up in the wealthier parts of southern California to protect residents from the drug gangs and domestic terrorists that prey on those unable to protect themselves. The sleepless, in their quest for something to give meaning to their lives, dominate the city’s night life, and wander the streets by the hundreds in search of amusement. The only thing that offers physical relief from the disease, even if only for a while, is a new drug officially labeled as DR33M3R, but which has, of course, become known on the street as Dreamer. Unfortunately, the company manufacturing Dreamer is unable to produce it at a pace anything near the demand for the drug.
Into this world comes Parker Haas, an undercover policeman determined to learn the truth about Dreamer and the company that produces it to such great profit. Haas knows, first hand, how desperate the sleepless are to get their hands on Dreamer - his wife suffers from the disease and he fears that his baby daughter may have become infected, as well - and he suspects that the pharmaceutical giant producing it may be up to no good . Parker Haas is determined to bring as much justice back into the world as he can despite the odds against him and the increasing likelihood he will not survive his efforts.
Sleepless is a depressing and complicated story. It is combination science fiction and detective thriller and it is filled with subplots that are not always easy for the reader to follow. Charlie Huston is well known as a literary stylist but his approach to prose in Sleepless is as often confusing as it is effective. For example, he uses two first person narrators to tell his story, something I suspect that most readers will only come to realize after reading a substantial portion of the book in confusion. Huston does distinguish, from the beginning, between the two voices by indenting paragraphs dealing with one and not indenting those of the other. By the time most readers figure this out, however, events will be jumbled enough in their mind that much will have been missed in the reading process.
Perhaps Huston wants to give his readers a taste of the frustration, irritability and difficulty in focusing the victims of the sleeplessness disease feel. If so, he succeeds in spades.
Rated at: 2.5