It’s true. Raymond Chandler and Kurt Vonnegut made a baby. And its name is Sleepwalk. From the first few pages, I was enthralled by author Dan Chaon’s ability to create an antihero of such depth—such longing—that I nearly forgot Will Bear is a sociopath. Yeah. Among his many side jobs, he kills people.
As you wend your way through the backroads of a slightly futuristic America, you realize that the person Billy is was mainly due to his random, haphazard childhood. That and a sometime mom who herself had sociopathic tendencies. Like his mother, when the protagonist takes someone out, it’s not personal. Instead, it’s necessary.
When Will learns that he might have a biological daughter, things get even more interesting as the revelation turns his world upside down. There were times when I pictured the character as Philip Marlowe chasing down clues. Other times, I recalled some of the funniest moments in novels, such as Player Piano and Cat’s Cradle. But hey, that’s me.
Sleepwalk is a hard book to categorize. If I had to sum it up, I’d say it’s crime fiction with some laughs, mainly at Will’s expense. And like him, the other characters are as real as they get. Truthfully, though, The novel is not for everyone. Just saying.
If you’re into authors who write to market, then this book may not seem like a slam dunk. But, on the other hand, if you give it a chance, I promise it will open your eyes to addictive storytelling that doesn’t play by the rules. If there was a way, I’d give this book six stars.
Sleepwalk’s hero, Will Bear, is a man with so many aliases that he simply thinks of himself as the Barely Blur. At fifty years old, he’s been living off the grid for over half his life. He’s never had a real job, never paid taxes, never been in a committed relationship. A good-natured henchman with a complicated and lonely past and a passion for LSD microdosing, he spends his time hopscotching across state lines in his beloved camper van, running sometimes shady often dangerous errands for a powerful and ruthless operation he’s never troubled himself to learn too much about. He has lots of connections, but no true ties. His longest relationships are with an old rescue dog that has post-traumatic stress and a childhood friend as deeply entrenched in the underworld as he is, who, lately, he’s less and less sure he can trust.
Out of the blue, one of Will’s many burner phones heralds a call from a twenty-year-old woman claiming to be his biological daughter. She says she’s the product of one of his long-ago sperm donations; he’s half certain she’s AI. She needs his help. She’s entrenched in a widespread and nefarious plot involving Will’s employers, and for Will to continue to have any contact with her increasingly fuzzes the line between the people he is working for and the people he’s running from.
With his signature blend of haunting emotional realism and fast-paced intrigue, Dan Chaon populates his fractured America with characters who ring all too true. Gazing both back to the past and forward to an inevitable-enough-seeming future, Sleepwalk examines where we’ve been and where we’re going and the connections that bind us, no matter how far we travel to dodge them or how cleverly we hide.