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.)
"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
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.
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.
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