Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Intelligent, funny, energetically characterized and provocative about some timely issues, Cohen's second novel (after The Here and Now) would be a perfect read except for his tendency to overload the narrative with scenes that go on too long and his need to chart every nuance of his major characters' self-destruction. Bonnie Saks is a contemporary everywoman: at 39, she's divorced and raising two nice kids, albeit with meager resources, while teaching expository writing and trying to finish her dissertation. Smart, witty (she exudes "a penumbra of irony") and a fond (if impatient) mother-- scenes with her sons are especially good-- Bonnie is an engaging, if sometimes irritatingly mercurial, character. After she discovers she's pregnant by a man she despises and decides against abortion, Bonnie's chronic insomnia becomes acute sleep deprivation. In a series of cleverly handled developments, she comes into the orbit of Ian Ogelvie, a brilliant but lonely, shy and nerdy sleep researcher at a Boston hospital, who is engaging in experiments with a new drug that may cure sleep disorders. As the reader soon learns, Ian is the only honest, innocent member of the research team; everyone else involved is unscrupulous and self-serving. Cohen is at his best here, sketching the sub-rosa ties between academic research, pharmaceutical companies, managed care and the business world with exuberant satire. Unaware of the general chicanery, Ian enlists Bonnie in the program, with disastrous results. Cohen's text often zings true with riffs on contemporary life, and, despite a few longueurs, he succeeds in intertwining vibrant secondary characters and several plot lines into a suspenseful narrative. This will be a word-of-mouth book among discriminating readers. (Jan. 8) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Bonnie Saks is awash in misery. At 39, she is the single mother of two young sons, one of whom is on Prozac. She is "all but dissertation" and has been for years, she's bored teaching college English in the Boston area, and she's pregnant by a long-gone lover. And for the life of her, she is no longer able to sleep. Stopping just short of toppling over the edge, Bonnie signs up for a blind study involving an experimental drug that is officially intended to alleviate motion sickness but unofficially shows promise as a "harmless" sleeping potion. Thus does Cohen plunge his readers into the smarty-pants, angst-dripping, ego-clashing worlds of drug research, big business, and academia. Though his characters are deeply flawed and often unlikable, one keeps turning the pages in the hope of finding that someone will manage to crawl out of the wreckage of their lives relatively unscathed. Larger libraries will want to consider this for fans of Joseph Heller or the film American Beauty. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/00.]--Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Moves effortlessly between the hilarious and the heartbreaking . . . His prose is not merely gorgeous, it's also terrifically funny; his humor is the ghastly variety embedded in ordinary life . . . Inspired Sleep is inspired all the way to its unexpected and clever conclusion. Inevitably, there is no cure for the human condition. There are, however, novels like this one, which come as close as we may get to making it sublime.
New York Times Book Review
Robert Cohen's talented novel, not so much a "how we live now" as a wild and often ingenious "how we fall apart now," suggests other answers. Sometimes they come within muttering distance of the tragic sense of life: suffering as our human immortality.
New York Times
An insomniac single mother seeks reliefand (temporarily) finds chemically induced bliss. It's no wonder Bonnie Saks can't sleep. She's a poorly paid college instructor, working doggedly on her dissertation while teaching Western Lit. to drowsy undergrads. She's beset by a vague longing for a better life, overwhelmed by feelings of failure, and worried about her unintended pregnancy. Her married lover means well but does little, and her do-gooder husband decamped some time ago to the Third World in pursuit of a less materialistic way of life. Their teenaged son Alex is a nervous wreck, subsisting on Prozac and Dr. Pepper, and her younger son, longing for his feckless father, keeps her awake with nightmares of his own. So Bonnie answers an ad for sleep-study volunteers placed by Dr. Ian Ogelvie, a hotshot young psychiatrist who's testing the fabulous new sleeping pill Dodabulax. He spends long hours each night at the lab obsessing over trifles, fantasizing about the fat grant he hopes to earn, lusting after his nubile, tough-talking lab assistant Marisa Chu, and swilling vodka straight from the bottle. Hooking up Bonnie to an electroencephalograph and sending her into dreamland with a few blue pills, he watches her sink into untroubled slumber at last. Her dreams are restful and deeply pleasurableand often erotic. But when she wakes up, everything is just like before. Bonnie gets on wearily with her life, learns that the fetus has died (and that those blue pills were placebos); and Dr. Ogelvie learns that he won't get that coveted grant after all. Cohen (The Here and Now, 1996) takes a few feeble pokes at the collusion between universitiesandinternational drugcompanies bent on getting their latest products past the FDA, but that's about it for excitement. Any intermittent flights of fancy are shot down by the cerebral, fussy prose.
Read an Excerpt
These days, Bonnie Saks is lucky to gets four consecutive hours of shut-eye, what with her bed-wetting young son, her unfinished doctoral thesis, her meager teaching salary, and the fact that she’s pregnant by a lover about as reliable as her ex-husband.
Meanwhile, Ian Ogelvie, an ambitious young research scientist, is setting up a study of a promising new sleep aid. Their chance encounter forms the backdrop for this richly exuberant portrait of contemporary America, encompassing everything from the slippery evasions of love to the intricate network that binds together the pharmaceutical industry, managed care, and a shadow population of lost, sleepless souls. At once entertaining and philosophic, Inspired Sleep heralds a major voice in American fiction.