Paul Tremblay’s The Little Sleep is great little private eye novel that juxtaposes the very familiar with a unique concept. While reading it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe private eye novels, but Tremblay threw in extra curves that come directly out of the present. The title is definitely a play on Raymond Chandler’s first Marlowe novel, The Big Sleep. That novel was made into a movie that stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Thirty-year old private investigator Mark Genevich has narcolepsy. The condition is a result of a car accident eight years ago. Mark was left severely damaged, but his best friend died. Unable to hold a job, Mark tries to follow through on what was initially a lark in his early twenties. Still, even with his disability, he’s managed to stay awake long enough to almost make a living. He’s subsidized by his mother, Ellen, who lets him live in a building she owns and occasionally fronts him money.
Mark is barely able to take care of himself and is a constant threat to himself because of his smoking. At first, I was somewhat dismayed by all the problems he had, but when I started reading about the ways he tried to compensate for them, I was hooked. Mark has had to learn all kinds of tricks to keep himself awake, and to manage the emotional frailty that results from those times when his body becomes a virtual prison. I’ve never known anyone with narcolepsy, and the disease is often the punch line of a joke. But for people who have this, it’s obviously an uphill battle every day.
Part of Mark’s vulnerabilities includes the inability to remember things as well as the likelihood of fantasizing about things. He has to work hard just to sort out the truth of his life. Taking on other people’s problems is difficult for him, and usually he keeps his work pared down to stuff with a flexible deadline and little client involvement.