Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pseudo Review: "The Little Sleep" by Paul Tremblay

A couple of months back, I had the estimable pleasure of bouncing my wonderous self off the pavement of South Huntington Avenue. I'd been riding my bike for two hours per night after working a full day's shift and thought this might be a great, inexpensive way to both get to know the areas that I wasn't so familiar with and to lose a few pounds. Night One was along the Charles from Allston up to MGH and into Cambridge a little. Night Two took me down toward Boston College and around the Reservoir a few times. Night Three consisted the back streets of Cambridge along the Harvard area; lot of ins and outs and what-have-yous. And then, Night Four: along Jamaica Pond, through JP and down toward Huntington. That's when it happened.

Trying to move to the right side of South Huntington in order to let cars pass more safely, my front tire got stuck in a Green Line trolley track and I flipped over, head first, to the waiting rubberized street below. I remember velocity, the sudden and winded "HUNNPH!" as I hit the ground, and I recall coming to rest on my left side... almost as if I'd planned to go to sleep there. Three or four seconds later I was getting up onto my feet. I'm a fast recoverer, partially because I'm so damn tough (yeah, right) but moreso because I'm typically embarrassed of such a fall and somewhere, deep down, I want any possible witnesses to know that "I'm just fine, thank you, there's nothing to see here, so move along."

Though there wasn't any pain to speak of, I certainly looked the part of the banged-up bicyclist. Road-rashed knees, arms and face, bloody cuts, newly slightly-chipped tooth... This was nothing I couldn't handle. I've never thought much of my particular look anyway, so I was able to deal with what happened, mostly. I'd broken a wrist in three places but not known it; it was stiff, I felt, but not painful. In short (if it's not already too late to make such an attempt) I felt like a big, mangled dope who was supremely lucky not to have been killed. I limped my way home, having neither my cell phone on me nor enough money to call a cab. After being bandaged up and told to stay off my feet for a few days, I opened "The Little Sleep," a great detective novel with a rich and often tough local flavor by Paul Tremblay.

As a guy who's seen and loved probably a few too many Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade stories, myself, I fell right in with Tremblay's protagonist, Mark Genevich. A South Boston private investigator with a form of narcolepsy that flows from fatigue to hallucinations to full-on cataplexy, he eeks out his existence with a sizable helping of contempt for both others and himself. The novel's opening scene is a grabber: a local female television celebrity reveals her hand, which is missing a few fingers, and asks the dark Detective Genevich to find the people responsible. But soon Genevich "wakes up" and is wondering... Did this meeting just happen? Was anyone just here? And where did this mysterious note in my handwriting come from?

Genevich is referred to as being somewhat facially disfigured following the accident that brought on his narcolepsy in the first place. Though he covers his scars with a growth of beard and the requisite detective raincoat and hat combo, his spirit is just as shattered as his rumpled appearance, if not more so. Hiding in plain sight, he's an imposing figure masking a deeper soul. He's all-there in his interior world with a razor sharp humor that he wields like a weapon, yet often has great difficulty saying the right thing to the right person at the right time. He's the classic underdog hero; one that might seem like - and even consider himself - the perfect loser, but has an inner strength that can, and often does, serve as a sort of salvation.

Genevich's investigation takes him from the streets of Boston to the power offices of Local Government, through a hallucination or two and eventually into his own past. The narrative works brilliantly on its own, but it's the character himself that's the novel's ace in the hole. He's gruff, he's dark, he's often unpleasant. A moralist who's ready to believe the worst. He's the blue collar joe in the white collar corridors. The damaged hero that we love and want to succeed; to solve his crime and to find personal peace. As I mentioned above, I sympathized with this character to a dramatic extent. Not that Genevich would ever accept anyone's sympathy. And as I'd been feeling a little "off" that particular month due to my bicycle wreck, moving through the chapters of "The Little Sleep" I'd thought to myself, "I know this guy." And though I knew I'd be fine in a few days once the wrist healed up, I found myself hoping that Genevich's situation would turn itself around, too. Sometimes a character just clicks with you, you know?

A second novel featuring Genevich, "No Sleep Till Wonderland" is also available and it's quite a ride in its own right. I look forward to what I hope will be many more installments in this local gumshoe's life and times. He, and creator Paul Tremblay, have great things ahead of them.

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