May 15, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.
Hard boiled, imperfect narcoleptic detectives aren't usually found in fiction, but The Little Sleep's Mark Genevich proves the perfect narrator for this mystery that has caused author Paul Tremblay to be favorably compared to both Raymond Chandler and Jonathan Lethem.
PopMatters wrote of the book:
"There’s a devil-may-care joy and affecting vulnerability to even the bleakest of Tremblay’s scenarios, in which his bearded and scarred narrator confronts old familial demons and the limits of his own physical abilities even as he untangles a web of Bostonian deception, where the politics is personal and vice versa. While Tremblay may occasionally fall back on the old and familiar standards to uphold the book’s plot particulars, his slashing verve with language and surprisingly emotive take on this last-chance protagonist shows there’s plenty of life left in the world of the private eye."
The Little Sleep started with a stereotypical hard boiled scene with a twist. A beautiful woman walks into a PI's office and shows off her hand: she’d had her fingers stolen and replaced with someone else’s fingers. I thought I'd penned the first chapter to some anything-goes, near-feature science fiction/horror/noir novel, but it didn't go anywhere and I put the chapter aside. A year or so later, when I happened to be perusing medical afflictions online (a recommended hobby!), I stumbled upon narcolepsy, and that missing-fingers chapter made total sense.
The Little Sleep is a noir mash-up and it features the first person, present tense story of Mark Genevich, narcoleptic private detective. Mark’s narcoleptic symptoms include hypnogogic hallucinations and cataplexy. I wanted to write a PI novel -- which is a genre that celebrates order, the lucid piecing together of clues to reveal hard truths and black-and-white conclusions -- that blurred the lines of reality and embraced ambiguity, while featuring a character who is anti-PI: Mark’s not a super sleuth, not good with a gun, not all that competent, and is an incredibly unreliable narrator. Thematically, the novel is about reality, identity, and memory, and how all are malleable and shifting upon loose sands.
My Sleep Songs:
Mogwai, EP + 2
Bela Bartok, Hungarian Sketches
When writing the novel, I listened to the above two recordings exclusively. Both works rely on underlying rhythms and themes that repeat, which brings a measure of both comfort and unease to the chaotic and dreamlike songs.
Pixies, "The Sad Punk"
"I smell smoke / it comes from a gun / named extinction"
I quoted the above lyric in The Little Sleep. The lyrics only fit the novel in an oblique and personal way, to be honest, but overall, I think "The Sad Punk" encompasses a general attitude with which I tried to infuse the novel.
Mark Genevich’s Sleep Songs:
The hard boiled, American PI has always been a loner, and Mark’s narcolepsy definitely amps up that classic state. The themes of anger, alienation, revolution, upheaval, of being a social misfit/outcast who yearns to be and do something more resonate with Mark. And he knows a good song when he hears one.
Uncle Tupelo, "Black Eye"
"When he realized that this one was here to stay / he took down all the mirrors in the hallway / and thought only of his younger face."
Husker Du, "59 Times the Pain"
"I look at the photos of different eras gone by / I see the changes and I hate them all."
Eight years ago Mark and his best friend George crashed their van on the way back from a casino. George died and Mark’s suffered severe head trauma. His face was all messed up; broken nose, cheekbone, and now one eye is set lower than the other. Also, his narcoleptic symptoms began to manifest after the accident. Mark is very much a changed man, one he still struggles to accept and recognize.
Dinosaur Jr., "Thumb"
"There never really is a good time / there's always nothing much to say / pretty good, not doing that fine / getting up most every day"
Neutral Milk Hotel, "King of Carrot Flowers"
"Mom would stick a fork right into Daddy’s shoulder"
Mark’s daily existence is a struggle. He lives alone in an apartment above his South Boston office. His mother, Ellen, owns the brownstone, stays at Mark’s apartment a few nights a week to help take care of him, and she has been known to wear clown pants on occasion. Mark’s father, Tim Genevich, died when Mark was five. Mark has no real memories of his father, other than a recurring dream of being at the family bungalow on the Cape, and helping his dad clean the yard of dog shit.
PJ Harvey "Big Exit"
"I walk on concrete / I walk on sand / but I can’t find / a safe place to stand / I’m scared baby / I wanna run / this world’s crazy / give me the gun"
Clutch "Texan book of the Dead"
"Be leary of Timothy / clear light and all that.
Mark wakes up in his office and the woman with the missing fingers is gone. On his desk are two nudie photos of Jennifer Times, signing contestant on an American Idol-type show. Mark realizes the stuff about her fingers being missing is a dream, and that the real gig is a simple blackmail scheme. Mark quickly finds out he’s wrong about anything being simple when gun toting goons, hypnogogic hallucinations, and lost voices from the past begin to pile up. Mark needs to figure out what his case is before he even attempts to solve it.
Saul Williams "List of Demands (Reparations)"
"We aim to remember what we choose to forget."
Living Colour "These Memories Can’t Wait" (Cover)
"Do you remember anyone here? / no you don’t remember anything at all / I’m sleeping, I’m flat on my back / never woke up, had no regrets"
Mark’s dreams and hallucinations are so vivid, he can’t always be sure what really happened. He can be out cold and not behind the switch and complete simple tasks via automatic behavior. Of course he doesn’t remember any of it. Because of how often he falls asleep and the crushing fatigue, he has issues with both short and long term memory. Reality and memory and dreams mix it up, complicate, and compete in Mark’s world.
Black Flag "Rise Above"
"Laugh at us behind our backs / I find satisfaction in what they lack"
Mark’s armor is his wit and sarcasm. He’ll turn it all loose on anyone, including himself. Yeah, he knows he’s the joke to someone else’s punch line most days, but he never gives in, no matter how many mistakes he makes, no matter how often he stumbles or goes unconscious.
Shellac "Song Against Itself"
"This is the song against itself / it’s of two minds of its own."
If there’s a theme song for The Little Sleep and Mark Genevich, this is it.
Paul Tremblay and The Little Sleep links:
BIFF BAM POP! review
Bookspot Central review
Breaking the Fourth Wall review
Los Angeles Times review
Mystery Book Review review
The Mystery Reader review
Publishers Weekly review St. Petersburg Times review
also at Largehearted Boy: