Sleepwalking

In the past month I’ve read two good books with “sleepwalk” in the title, Sleepwalk with Me and Sleepwalker.

The first, by comedian and This American Life alum Mike Birbiglia, has lately been overhyped on NPR and affiliates, as Birbiglia made the publicity rounds. But, hyped or not, the book is hilarious. It includes the famous sleepwalking-in-Walla-Walla-Washington incident (performed in his one-man show and on TAL), the first-kiss story, and “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” plus a bunch of new stuff that’s equally entertaining. I’m surprised that Birbiglia is not a great interview—he seemed phlegmatic and guarded—but maybe it was fatigue.

The second, by Irish writer John Toomey, isn’t on any radar I’m aware of—except, I guess, that of Bookshop Santa Cruz, where I found it on a table of literary paperbacks. (I love Bookshop Santa Cruz. I’ve discovered a host of new authors there, merely by relying on the taste of whoever stocks the tables.) Toomey is great: adept with words, crafting sharp little sentences that carry a surprising amount of emotional heft. His protagonist, Stuart, would be an oaf to know, but on the page he’s compelling and appealing. And Toomey plays a neat little trick of writing an intimate book about someone who can’t handle intimacy.

There’s one oddity, which is that Toomey has chosen a first-person narrator who isn’t Stuart to tell Stuart’s tale. And I don’t know why. It’s not a Nick-v.-Gatsby situation, because this narrator takes no part in the action; he merely hears about it later. It’s certainly true that Stuart couldn’t tell his own story, since he lacks the awareness, but that’s where the third person becomes useful. And since the novel is essentially told in the third person, with the narrator speaking about other people, nothing seems to have been gained. In fact, in the few moments when the narrator steps in to opine, his voice falls flat.

I’m not quite finished—50 or so pages to go—so perhaps it’ll all become clear.

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