Broken Sleep – Bruce Bauman (6/10)

Book Review Blog


Broken Sleep came up as a recommended read for me, presumably due to Bruce Bauman’s association with one of my favourite authors Steve Erickson. It is described as an experimental, kaleidoscopic epic, encompassing art, madness, philosophy and identity, which sounds like exactly the kind of book I enjoy.

‘There are many dimensions of ‘reality’ we don’t understand. Odd things occur that can’t be explained. That does not make you a candidate for a mental breakdown. I believe in what can be proved and I’m agnostic on what cannot be disproved. I do not subscribe to past life memories, extraterrestrials, time travel, ESP, or any other speculative sci-fi concoctions. That doesn’t rule them out for eternity. It rules them out for now. There’s more in here – he pointed to his head and then to the heavens – than there is out there.”

It is written from three different perspectives; two of which are first person an one is third. Salome Savant is a sex-obsessed artist who has been in and out of psychiatric care for most of her life; Moses Teumer is the son she believes was stillborn, who is now seeking a bone marrow transplant from his biological family; and Ambitious Mindswallow is bassist for rock superstars The Insatiables and a close friend of Salome’s beloved son Alchemy.

Despite the head-jumping, this isn’t at all difficult to follow. The characters are colourful and relatable (with the possible exception of Alchemy the rock star who can do no wrong), so the technique succeeds in giving a multi-faceted view of events. I don’t consider it to do anything ground-breaking in terms of style though, and its tendency towards anecdote over immersing the reader in a scene is a little disappointing. The character back stories are interesting for sure, but I was expecting a gripping plot to be laid over them and unfortunately that never comes.

Strangely, Broken Sleep as a title seems to have very little to do with the content; the Savant family do share a tendency to slip into daydreams and sleep poorly, but this is alluded to only sporadically and I didn’t consider it a key part of the story.  

Politics, art, medicine, corruption, the press, the music industry, insanity, and family life are all incorporated into Broken Sleep. The multiple points of view enable us to see each of these from hugely varying perspectives, which is a big task to take on as a writer. For example we are shown the formation of a left-wing political party beside the musings of a former Nazi officer with no regrets. Elsewhere, we observe someone who does not believe in time living every moment to the full, beside someone who is running out of time but never using what he has to make it count.  

The problem perhaps is that the themes are too broad to be meaningful in any one area. It almost has something to say about nature vs nurture, and it almost has something to say about the impact of personal relationships vs the impact of politics on our lives and our sense of control: but not quite.

“Inside every human, without exception, resides the essence of what moralists call evil. Herbert Spencer, in classic English linguistic perfidy, declared this drive to be ‘survival of the fittest’. I witnessed this exhibition of spirit by the delighted participation of women and children in acts of murder and debauchery. This empowering drive to vanquish and control is encoded in our blood and far outweighs courage or human generosity, or, for Christ’s sake, loving the enemy.”

What it does manage to demonstrate, I think, is how subjective life is. Everyone thinks their own logic is perfectly defensible, and everyone thinks they are the ones who need to wake others up to truth. Everyone tries to protect their loved ones in the best way they can, and everyone is torn apart by being lied to and having their worldview turned upside down.   

Reason is powerless to repair the ruptured heart.’

I did enjoy Broken Sleep on the whole. Although it is hard to justify the length (620 pages), it is a straightforward read with short chapters, and I kept turning the pages once I’d picked it up. It’s just unfortunate there is very little in the way of suspense, or even open questions to make the reader desperate to go back for more. 

Phantom Pain

“Here we go, is this it? Are we starting? Are you sure, because it doesn’t feel like my spine is straight. And my shoulder itches. And I need to swallow. Is swallowing allowed or does that count as moving the body?”

“…”

“My eyes are closed, but they don’t seem closed closed. I mean, I can see my eyelids I think. Is that ok? How do you close your eyes when they’re already closed?”

“…”

“Oh damn, I forgot to check the volume of the alarm. I could just go and do it now? It’ll undo all the good work if it startles me too much.”

“…”

“OK, point taken. Dum dum de dum dum de dum de dum de dum. Hey, what’s that song that goes ‘sometimes I feel like despair is my only friend…’? You know the one. It’s by The Mission, I think. Let’s go and look it up. It’ll take, like, two seconds and then I’ll be satisfied and you can have your peace, OK?”

“…”

Continue reading “Phantom Pain”

The Day I Became A Star: An Installation

The Day I Became A Star

A tall, slender man stands upon the rocks; his arms outstretched, his body draped in black fabric. His hat is something akin to a mitre, but heavily adorned with trinkets and silver chains. He looks towards a growing crowd on the beach with dark, hollow eyes as he prepares to address them.

The man is a tulpa. He is a thought form evoked from the mind of a Mage, who hides himself among the ordinary folk coming to hear him speak. It is a relatively new phenomenon that we are collectively able to perceive tulpas made by other people, so an art installation such as this is quite a draw for those not able to create their own yet. Besides, it is said that imaginary friends often have more compelling things to say than the people who created them.

There is hush among those gathered as the tulpa begins:

“Imagine, if you will, a world in which every number is infinite; there is no difference. Imagine every sound you’ve ever heard combining into one persistent piece of music, that holds you and carries you along in the arms of its current. Imagine that you are one of these sounds; you are all of them in fact, and yet none of them. You are part of the great mind fabric. That is where I come from.  Continue reading “The Day I Became A Star: An Installation”

Hearts Can’t Catch

“I love the sculptures are they yours?”

Wow. This is why Emily was special. Not one other person had noticed my sculptures and I had put a lot of effort into them. I buzzed with excitement.

“You look beautiful.”

She had always glowed at my compliments, but refused to take them. “Still a charmer, hey? I know you say that to all the girls.”

“Of course, but it’s true with you.”

How could I make her see I meant it? I wanted to ask her if she still felt the chemistry between us.

“It’s still there isn’t it?”

“It’ll always be there,” she assured me.

I watched her deep purple lips as she said it, banking the moment and the words into permanent memory. Her hair was caught in her earring, an oversized pewter black rose, and I reached to untangle it for her. She stiffened and looked nervously towards the door. The door through which her new boyfriend would soon emerge and crush all my hopes of getting her back.

I took a bathroom cubicle shortly after that, where I could let my pure panic out by punching the cistern until I bled. Things started getting weird then, and I don’t know, maybe I blacked out for a little while because what I remember next is very loud and very close and tequila

and tequila

and tequila Continue reading “Hearts Can’t Catch”

A Cure For Loneliness

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A gust of wind slaps my freshly shaved head as a metal door swings back to release me. Suddenly the world feels aggressive and alien. The lights are too bright yet the shade is too dark, the air is too harsh. It’s only because the wound is so fresh, I remind myself. I will adjust, I know.

A fool on the hill is muttering something about quantum theory only existing since we admitted to killing our own god. “You are living on waves of decay!” He rants, furious that no one is listening to him.

It has been years since these streets were packed full of commuters and consumers. A pang of nostalgia hits me whenever I think of the days when human contact was a near constant occurrence; such a juxtaposition to the desolate state of modernity.

With my fingertips I feel the row of stitches that hold the crack in my head together. The shock of it makes me grow fiery and I hurl the contents of my stomach into a waste bin. It will be worth it. Just two days, the doctor said, then I can turn it on. If I do it any sooner it is likely my brain won’t be able to adapt and I will be lost. Continue reading “A Cure For Loneliness”

Fragments of Void: Quantum Conductor

Quantum Conductor

Beneath the very particles of my being I was waves all along. My position in space and time was a lie; permanence was only ever an idea.

We talk of wave functions collapsing to form objective reality, but that is upside down and inside out. A wave function does not collapse, it is merely that we (the observers) give birth to illusions based upon its pattern. 

For man to think he creates reality by observing it, that he is essentially God to small things, is only true in a superficial sense. It is an ego’s interpretation.  

We perceive a reality we are equipped to understand. That is, a reality that makes use of the kind of sensory detectors we happen to have. A reality that shows objects to be at just one position in space and time at once; the position they are most likely to be in if they had to ‘choose’ given the data from all other things acting upon them. But outside of our minds, they don’t have to choose. In fact they don’t have to obey measurement systems at all, they simply are.  

Upon realising this, I have become a quantum conductor. I forget everything I think I know and allow the waves to travel freely through my fingers, to make music upon me; and I interpret the resulting pattern for man’s instruments through my dance. I search for the part of me that conforms to the very essence of the music, because I love how it makes my presence in the moment crumble. To be wholly at one with the harmony of the waves around us is to be attuned to all places at all times. It is to be connected to every possibility outside of the consensus reality tunnel, and as such it cannot be accurately described, only understood. 

To make something in wave form that is beautiful to us is the purest thing we can do, because it reflects the illusions we have created back into the language of the infinite. A religious man might say it is like telling stories to God in her language. I say the music itself is the most meaningful thing we have.  

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Fragments of Void is a collection of bite size creative writing pieces around the theme of nihilism and dark spirituality.  

Separate Dreams

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She lies on her bed thinking of him and what they could have been. He was cruel to her, she knows, but she admires the reason why. She longs to tell him that the life he chose was what she wanted all along; to be released from norms and social expectations, to roam as free as a bird with no connections and only the present moment to worry about. He was no good for her, he had said, he would lead her astray. But she wanted to be led astray. She wanted the excuse to experience colour and exhilaration instead of greyish and uniform. Take me with you, she had begged, I understand, I do.

He rides faster and faster on his bike, thrilled by the roar of the engine beneath him and the sensation that everything is moving quickly through him. It takes the pain away. Pain can’t travel at 100mph like he can. If he were to slow down he’d be stuck with that thought yet again, that she is only ‘the one that got away’ because he pushed her. He longs to tell her that the life she chose was what he wanted all along; to be accepted by society, to settle in one place long enough to establish a true sense of self, to have a past and a future worth caring about.

In their separate dreams she and he will live, building new castles from the ghosts that haunt them, their silent screams resonating until the end when the tide catches up and takes them both for its own.