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New Yorker Fiction Review: "Sleep" by Colm Toibin

Issue: March 23, 2015

Story: "Sleep" by Colm Toibin

Rating: Meh Meh Meh

Review: This was short and it was a story. And that's the best thing I can say about it.

A close first person (is there any other kind, you may ask? Yes) narration of a few months in which a man, tormented by the death of his brother, is forced by his lover to confront the demons that haunt him in his sleep. So he travels to his native Ireland to see a shrink -- in the belief that only an Irish shrink can help -- and gets hypnotized into living the moments of his brothers' death in his shoes. He returns to New York, but nothing is the same.

There were far, far too many "I"s in this story. So many that I got swallowed up by them. That "I" is an important thing in a first person story but it can also be a black hole, an "identity suck" if you will. It becomes a bottomless pit into which all the imagination and texture and exteriority of the character's world gets thrown and never comes back. And...from a writing's just far too easy and convenient.

Some okay stuff in here about relationships; Toibin lays a nice groundwork. A young Jewish man and an older Irish man are involved in a relationship in New York City, a relationship that the narrator acknowledges would have been impossible or at least extremely unlikely in any other time but this one. But when we get into the narrator's "night tremors" and his lover's kind of unmerited and disturbingly cold reaction, we get into some ill-developed territory that didn't work for me.

Been more than two years since I last read a Colm Toibin story in the NYer and frankly, I could stand to go two more years without having to read another.


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