Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Sleepwalk, by Dan Chaon: Dizzying Roadtrip Romp

If you've read Thomas Pynchon's novel Inherent Vice (or seen the equally confusing Joaquin Phoenix / Paul Thomas Anderson movie), you're in good shape to take on Dan Chaon's latest novel, Sleepwalk. But if you didn't, you should definitely check out this phenomenal book anyway. I'm a huge Chaon fan, and I think Sleepwalk is his best book yet.

Though Pynchon's novel is ostensibly a crime novel set in 1970s California, and Chaon's is a roadtrip romp set in a near-future America near collapse, the two are similar in their zany plots that zig when you expect them to zag. I mean that in the best possible way. In Sleepwalk, there are preternaturally smart chimps, violent right-wing militias, even a creepy cult. It's great! 

Though the plot is dizzying, dazzling, and constantly keeps you on your toes, the true highlight of this novel is its narrator, Billy. He's the best and most sympathetic antihero since Walter White. Billy is basically a cross-country errand boy, delivering human cargo for some shady enterprise we're not allowed to know much about. He and his trusty dog Flip (a pit bull he rescued from a dogfighting ring, so yeah, it's not hard to like this guy right off the bat) road trip around country in their camper to complete these nefarious tasks.

But then, Billy's checkered past catches up to him: He gets a call from a woman claiming to be named Cammie, and claiming to be his daughter. But whoa boy, it's just a bit more involved than that! The rest of the novel is about how Billy tries to track down Cammie, find out who she really is, and what she hopes to gain by contacting him. It's a scene, man. 

This is one my favorite books of the year so far -- it's sheer adrenaline and great fun. I mean, look at the Gillian Flynn blurb: "To say this is one of the best novels I've read in years is almost not enough." Anything I can tell you to talk you into reading this book pales in comparison to that. Give it a go!

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