‘A zombie story for people who hate zombie stories’ – Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

kcbmEver had a sleepless night? Maybe even two or three in a row? Then imagine what it would be like if you were awake for a week, without even a little nap. Two weeks. And your dreams start to invade reality. Kenneth Calhoun extends this idea to a whole world of insomniacs. How would they feel if they saw someone sleeping soundly? Calmly enjoying the one simple thing that eluded them? Calhoun decides they would go nuts, they would rip that Van Winkle apart. And, after reading his debut novel, Black Moon, I’m think he might be right.

Calhoun explores this nightmare through the separate journeys of five very different characters. Biggs is a natural sleeper looking for his insomniac wife. Chase takes a road trip with his pharmacy assistant buddy who is convinced sleeping pills will become the new currency. Chase’s ex-girlfriend, Felicia, interns at a sleep research centre where desperate search for a cure goes on before the insomnia hits all the specialists. And then there’s Lila. The sleeplessness hasn’t caught up with her yet, and so her parents send her away before they get so frazzled that they kill her in her sleep.

Calhoun’s prose is razor sharp, concise yet hauntingly descriptive. When Biggs arrives at his in-laws’ home, he finds it filled with insomniac neighbours:

‘Biggs observed how they seemed baffled by the position of the walls, the location of the doors, the height of the ceiling. The carpet confounded them, as did the late afternoon views out the window and the elegant mahogany furniture. They murmured to themselves as they picked through closets or stared at family photos, trying to situate their own dim histories—memories now distorted by the forces of exhaustion and hallucination—into the storyline that surrounded them. They were insomniacs under the impression they were home, yet home had somehow disowned them.’

This might sound familiar, like a new take on the seemingly undying zombie genre, but Black Moon is a zombie story for people who hate zombie stories. There’s no need to suspend disbelief here. Calhoun imagines a world we could all envision, and then leads us to the darkest corners of that concept.

Any Cop?: In our view Black Moon was one of the best debut novels of 2014. Catch it in the new paperback edition. This baby is highly recommended.

Jim Dempsey


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