SO MANY WAYS TO SLEEP BADLY by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (City Lights), 256 pages, $15.95 paper. Rating: NNNN
When I read the first chapter of the newest novel by San Francisco poster child for surviving-and-thriving gender/queer punks everywhere, I felt like I was being yelled at by an excited, manic friend who was pacing around a roach-infested kitchen, occasionally breaking into a runway walk while wearing hot pants made of burnt rainbow flags.
By the third chapter, the narrator was curled up next to me, near fetal, talking through a panic attack, going from non sequitur to non sequitur. Wanna hear a funny anecdote from yoga class? A cocksucking-in-the-park story interrupted by a brief blip of illness-related neurosis? A funny trick? A bit of crush-on-new-boy? Here's an incest flashback, an allergic reaction and finally, perhaps, a vegan snack. All without a paragraph switch.
The narrator speaks conversationally, with no thought to the conventions of description, plot or character development. People are named in a paragraph, yet we don't know what they look like, what they're about; we only see who they are in relation to the narrator.
While the book often appears to be so loose it's in danger of losing us in the noise, it's also deceptively layered, building story over story. Pulling off such a joyous and raw cacophony requires a skilled hand.
So Many Ways To Sleep Badly is an original, visceral reading experience. I give it extra points for including a sex-worker theme that avoids all the overdone stereotypes.
Though it certainly lacks your typical story arc, I recommend opening your mind to it. The rapid-fire, honest glimpse into the post-gay ruins of San Francisco will likely break even the toughest punk heart.