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The premise for Kenneth Calhoun’s debut novel Black Moon immediately caught my attention, though I usually avoid apocalyptic stories because they make me sleepy. A fitting response here as Calhoun’s dystopia is the result of a plague of sleeplessness. Infectious insomnia is taking the population down, having already driven most beyond the point of reason into insanity, including those who’d otherwise be capable of puzzling out a cure.

black moon

There’s speculation that only a few people actually have the highly infectious insomnia plague and most only imagine they do. Either way the sleepless are extremely dangerous; they hunt down and murder people who can sleep and then post videos of it online.

A few different perspectives countered with gratuitous flashbacks serve as the narrative. There’s a young girl named Lila who’s sent away from home after her insanely sleepless parents tried to attack her. We also have Biggs, an ad exec who ties his wife to a chair when she becomes too dangerous and then goes off to find some aspirin so he can tell her its a cure.

My boyfriend read this book and didn’t like it, and yet he wanted me to read it. Normally I don’t take a bite when someone says “Try this it’s awful”, but there was a sound reason to think I’d maybe like it. Perhaps he thought I’d get a kick from reading about my people, or maybe sort of see things from his perspective. The man can will himself to sleep in under a minute while I’m a habitual sleep walker and talker who indulges in a bout of insomnia every few months. He even used to feel so guilty about sleeping when I couldn’t that he tried to hide his napping.

The story here is exaggerated, but there’s a grain of truth to the violent reactions insomniacs have to those who can still sleep. These grains of truth and the things people will do for each other even as they lose their grip could have made for an intriguing story. Parts seem like they’re trying to be like a zombie book only the zombies are still vaguely alive, but the whole thing is hard to follow because at some point witness observations blur into hallucinations that are sometimes flashbacks.

Unfortunately this book wants to be so many different things that there’s nothing to hold on to, which is maybe the point. The concept is great if not wholly original, but the execution…yikes. This short novel was a slog to get through, and by slog I mean torture. I’d take breaks from reading and do some work just to wake up. Probably should’ve put it down and not picked it back up, but I kept hoping the time I invested reading these brutal scenes would mean something.

The sky was now without signals, the web of fibers dead in the earth. Networks expiring without sound human minds needed to maintain them.

The notion of a psychological plague could be frightening territory to mine, but the plot is too distracted for any one direction. That’s part of the problem, but the main reason I didn’t like this book is the writing. It tries really hard to wow with elaborate sentences that  read well out of context, but they fail to do what sentences in a novel usually do – tell a story.

This is not a book for everyone. It’s definitely not a book for me.