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Black Moon

Black Moon

3.6 8
by Kenneth Calhoun

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For fans of The Age of Miracles and The Dog Stars, Black Moon is a hallucinatory and stunning debut that Charles Yu calls “Gripping and expertly constructed.”

Insomnia has claimed everyone Biggs knows.  Even his beloved wife, Carolyn, has succumbed to the telltale red-rimmed eyes, slurred speech and cloudy mind before


For fans of The Age of Miracles and The Dog Stars, Black Moon is a hallucinatory and stunning debut that Charles Yu calls “Gripping and expertly constructed.”

Insomnia has claimed everyone Biggs knows.  Even his beloved wife, Carolyn, has succumbed to the telltale red-rimmed eyes, slurred speech and cloudy mind before disappearing into the quickly collapsing world.  Yet Biggs can still sleep, and dream, so he sets out to find her.

He ventures out into a world ransacked by mass confusion and desperation, where he meets others struggling against the tide of sleeplessness.  Chase and his buddy Jordan are devising a scheme to live off their drug-store lootings; Lila is a high school student wandering the streets in an owl mask, no longer safe with her insomniac parents; Felicia abandons the sanctuary of a sleep research center to try to protect her family and perhaps reunite with Chase, an ex-boyfriend.  All around, sleep has become an infinitely precious commodity. Money can’t buy it, no drug can touch it, and there are those who would kill to have it. However, Biggs persists in his quest for Carolyn, finding a resolve and inner strength that he never knew he had.

Kenneth Calhoun has written a brilliantly realized and utterly riveting depiction of a world gripped by madness, one that is vivid, strange, and profoundly moving.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction

“Haunting. . . . Many authors have tackled the mystique of sleeplessness — but few have done so with the grotesque grace and poetic insight of Black Moon. . . . Its totemic power builds into something heart-wrenchingly resonant. . . . [Calhoun’s] prose-rich passages of hallucinogenic abandon aren’t psychedelic—they’re razor-sharp.” —NPR.org
“Intriguing…Startling and evocative…Compelling, with an undercurrent of the surreal as science grapples with matters of the subconscious.”—Jeff Vandermeer, Los Angeles Times
"A dazzlying distopia...Its chillingness lies not only in its accurate portrayal of the insomniac brain but in the plausibility."—The Times (UK)

“Morbid, hallucinatory, darkly funny, and symbolically striking. . . . [Calhoun] carves out new space in the post-sleep apocalypse.” —The AV Club

“Gripping. . . . The characters are all completely relatable. I found myself rooting for their survival from page one.” Real Simple
“Uniquely haunting. . . . Terrifying and poetically beautiful at the same time. . . . [Calhoun] pushes the weirdness as far as he can, in a way that feels horribly plausible.” —io9
“Engaging. . . . speculative fiction at its best: suspenseful, intelligent, moving, and sure to keep you awake.” —PopMatters
“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.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Calhoun’s literary dystopia, which features beautiful writing, arresting imagery, and powerful metaphors, will appeal to fans of Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles. . . . A deeply lyrical exploration of humanity at the extremes.”Library Journal (starred review)
“Surprising and unpredictable. . . . In his first novel, Calhoun paints an all-too-believable landscape. . . . His dark tale is allegorical and relevant in today’s zombie-infatuated zeitgeist. This clever twist on the dystopian formula is a standout.” —Booklist
“Surreal. . . . Calhoun’s premise is brilliant.”—Kirkus
Black Moon is the kind of book I envy as a writer, and seek out as a reader—a novel of ideas wrapped in a gripping, expertly constructed story, full of feeling and intelligence.” —Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Black Moon is tremendous: smart, beautifully written, and artfully plotted. Kenneth Calhoun’s story is so engagingly told that it would be easy to overlook how finely crafted it is. And he manages to pull off that essential feat: he makes us care—deeply—for ordinary people trapped in a very extraordinary world.” —Scott Smith, author of The Ruins and A Simple Plan

“A thrilling, deeply intelligent portrait of catastrophe brought on by mass insomnia, by the wreckage that occurs when we lose our ability to close our eyes and escape into dreams. The dystopian landscape is absorbing, the prose electric, but the burning core of this novel is the heartrending and unforgettable story of a man’s quest to save the woman he loves.” —Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth
 “Calhoun’s epidemic, this new and improved insomnia, sinks us into a world where ‘sleepers’ are the target of violent rage. Here we see the erosion of the everyday ruses that allow us to soldier on, the ugly truths we run from gaining ground. Black Moon is a powerful, beautiful debut.” —John Brandon, author of Citrus County and A Million Heavens

Matt Biggs resides in a world plagued by chronic, unrelenting insomnia: Those few who, like himself, can still sleep become easy targets for the crazed sufferers who are sliding into dementia and death. Only by finding safe places to rest can the inexplicably immune survive this terrifying scourge. Kenneth Calhoun's debut novel drops us into a world that all good workaholics can instantly understand. Worth staying up late to read.

Publishers Weekly
★ 01/13/2014
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.)
Library Journal
★ 01/01/2014
In the midst of an epidemic of terminal insomnia of unknown origin, sufferers become confused and incoherent, turning on the few remaining noninsomniacs with murderous blind fury, even when catching their own loved ones in the act of sleeping. Debut novelist Calhoun, whose work has appeared in the Paris Review, Tin House, and the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2011, follows several characters through multiple story threads as they try to survive in this brave new world. Biggs is on a quest to find his wide-awake wife, who disappeared from their apartment, and in the process of seeking out her childhood home discovers uncomfortable truths about their relationship. Felicia is barricaded inside the sleep lab where she works as alert scientists rush to find a cure before they lose their wits; meanwhile, her besotted ex-boyfriend Chase falls in with an old friend who has been stealing and stockpiling sleeping pills from a local pharmacy since before the widespread disease took hold. VERDICT Calhoun's literary dystopia, which features beautiful writing, arresting imagery, and powerful metaphors, will appeal to fans of Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles. It is not sf as much as a deeply lyrical exploration of humanity at the extremes. [See Prepub Alert, 9/23/13.]—Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY
Kirkus Reviews
A novel about insomnia and dreams, and thus, almost by definition, it's surreal. Calhoun's premise is brilliant, and he follows it to its logical (and psychological) conclusion. What if, gradually, everyone lost the ability to sleep? What would the world look like? How would contemporary culture shift on its axis? In this narrative, we follow a series of characters drastically affected by this shift, most of them pathological insomniacs, though a few retain their ability to sleep and thus become pariahs to the multitudes of the sleepless. At the center of the novel are Biggs (a "sleeper") and his wife, Carolyn, who's given over to the telltale signs of insomnia, including physical symptoms like red-rimmed eyes and psychological symptoms resembling dementia. Over time, Biggs has watched her gradual deterioration, and part of the novel involves Biggs' quest to find her after she goes missing and to share with her an elaborate dream he's had, one Carolyn eventually tries to re-create and film. Another symptom of cultural and personal breakdown can be seen in college students Chase and Jordan. Since prescription sleep aids become extraordinarily valuable in a world populated by insomniacs, Chase and Jordan develop a scheme to rip off the pharmaceutical industry by stealing pills from the containers in which sleep medicines are kept. Chase's ex-girlfriend Felicia works as a lab assistant at a Sleep Research Center, where doctors are desperately trying to find a cure—and where their research sometimes has lethal consequences. Another narrative thread involves high school student Lila, who, like Biggs, has retained her ability to sleep, but she finds she must leave her parents, whose insomnia is leading them toward madness. Calhoun writes beautifully, though the novel is occasionally slow-moving—and thus, ironically, becomes a cure for insomnia.

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

KENNETH CALHOUN has had stories published in The Paris Review, Tin House, and the 2011 Pen/O. Henry Prize Collection, among others. He lives in Boston, where he is a graphic design professor at Lasell College. Black Moon is his first novel.

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Black Moon 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has so much potential, but the writing style is inconsistent and goes through different levels of skill. Major plot points and character developments are left without explanation, and thus there is no worthy resolution. Looking forward to seeing how this author will develop, but this book was very difficult to get through.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This books was a page turner! I read it all at once on a long flight home and it kept me awake the whole flight (9hours). The premise is hauntingly realistic, a sleepless world. What is sleep anyway? And why do we need it? What really goes on when we're sleeping? The landscapes are beautifully described and made exceptionally vivid by the author's artful prose. The book is written in a way that makes you feel like you are experiencing the epidemic as well, slowly succumbing to a sleepless existence (I always feel like a bit of a zombie on long flights so that certainly added something to my experience of the story). The characters seemed very real to me, strangely familiar in many ways. I wanted to hear more of the main character's dreams, those were some of my favorite parts. The books is a dark trip for sure, but a beautifully crafted one, and certainly one worth taking. You have to experience the dark to appreciate the light, right?
marilynrhea1 More than 1 year ago
This book has a great premise. Insomnia, which we have all suffered from at one point or another. Imagine not being able to sleep forever. This is what is plaguing most of the world in this novel. It starts out with just one husband trying to find the cure for his insomniac wife. It has a great premise,and is a good read, and doesn't fail to surprise us in many ways. I would recommend this to my friends that like this genre. I was given this book in return for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great premise, but the author's attempt to show us the disconnected thought processes of people going insane gets downright boring at times. It's a little like listening to Aunt Maud at the breakfast table tell you about "this crazy dream I had last night, you'll never believe it, drone drone drone." I get what the writer was after, and the Deep Thoughts embedded in the story, etc., but it was occasionally a slog. Lyrical, beautiful, sad, interesting, but not a page turner. And I think unnecessarily obscure about the action/outcomes. What happened with Mother Mary, for example?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The great idea for a story lured me in but the inspiration has been almost wasted with lengthy dream and fantasy sequences. I am going to finish the book but I won't remember it for a week ... unless I have insomnia.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
bergamotbooks More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be pretty cool. I've read a lot of reviews on it and most people are commenting on how many "insomniac apocalypse" books there are out there. However this is the first I've ever encountered, so if you haven't either, then perhaps your experience will be similar to mine. First of all let's get it out of the way that by the end of the book you realize Mr. Calhoun needed a better editor because the fate of one character is completely missing; just something you can't do if you've followed that person throughout the book. Also, some other characters were quickly dropped and given a hasty ending. Why were they even followed? They were interesting, and I thought that they were all going to converge experiences by the end of the book. Spoiler: they don't. The book could've been a lot longer. Also, Chapter 12, although fascinatingly grotesque, gave me a nightmare (Bonus? Deal breaker? I'm not sure what you're into). What is great about the book is the idea and Calhoun's wonderful gift at painting with words. He described the relationship of a wife and husband in such a way that made me miss my husband sleeping in the next room. Plus dystopian literature? Who doesn't love it? I enjoyed the experience, and am glad I read it despite the disappoints at the end. Source: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.