cover image Black Moon

Black Moon

Kenneth Calhoun. Random/Hogarth, $24 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8041-3714-0

Even amid a glut of apocalyptic novels that imagine everything from nuclear meltdown to zombies, Calhoun’s debut presents one of the most terrifying disaster scenarios of all time, perhaps because it’s somehow plausible: a worldwide insomnia epidemic turns people into the real living dead, making them prone to hallucinations and fits of anger. In the wreckage of America, where life and dreams are indistinguishable, several characters struggle to find each other while battling insanity and the encroaching nightmare. A onetime ad exec named Biggs, one of the last people still capable of sleep, searches for his wife Carolyn in the pandemonium. Another sleeper, Lila Ferrell, is among the first to see the epidemic coming thanks to her therapist father’s research; after her parents succumb to wakeful fever and threaten her life, she takes to the streets wearing an owl mask. Eventually, she meets Felicia, a lab assistant at a sleep research center determined to reverse the epidemic. Finally, there’s Felicia’s scofflaw lover, Chase, who attempts to take advantage of the situation by stockpiling sleeping pills, only to wind up embroiled in a surreal adventure involving a truck of stolen sheep. The characters and their intersecting narratives are largely a showcase for the author’s almost unspeakably dark vision of a restless world. Calhoun’s depiction of the collapse of language, reason, and love in a world without sleep is unflinching, and—scariest of all—it feels brilliantly contemporary. Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME Entertainment. (Mar.)