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Broken Sleep by Bruce Bauman
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Broken Sleep

by Bruce Bauman

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Let me start by saying that it has been several years since I have given up on a book. I read a wide variety of ARCS from various publishing companies but I just couldn't make it through this one. I conked out on page 270 of over 600. The premise was promising with the main character, Moses, finding out he has Leukemia and he must find a donor. This is complicated as he finds that he has a half brother that he was not aware of and later he finds out he is related to Greta Garbo. Some might find this a most creative book but others, like me, a convoluted mish mash of divergent stories. ( )
  muddyboy | Mar 20, 2016 |
Feminist author Carol Hanisch’s oft-quoted phrase, “The Personal is Political,” certainly applies to Bruce Bauman’s sprawling, big-hearted novel Broken Sleep. It's told through the points of view of three very different characters - Salome Savant, an avant garde New York artist, Moses Teumer, the son she thought died at birth, and Ricky McFinn (aka Ambitious Mindswallow) the tough-talking bassist in her other son’s band. Bauman keeps plenty of balls in the air, effortlessly swapping between narrators to piece together a complicated tale of individual identity, family relationships and the invisible pull of DNA.

At the outset, we find out that Moses has been diagnosed with a form of cancer that requires a closely matched bone marrow donor. Failing to find anyone from the available pool of volunteers, he seeks out his half-brother, a rock star improbably named Alchemy Savant, who not only provides the life-saving donation, but accepts Moses immediately as family. Their shared mother, a renowned artist institutionalized with mental illness, was told that Moses died at birth, and both men grapple with whether to introduce her to Moses or not. But that’s only part of the story. This is a sweeping tale that starts during the 1960’s Pop Art era and moves up to the 2020 presidential election. There’s crooked lawyers, outlaw artists, record company executives, Nazi war criminals, anti-government radicals and Greta Garbo.

At 656 pages, the book seemed daunting at the start, but it’s broken up into many short chapters, swapping between narrators, each giving their take on particular periods of time and events, so it moves along swiftly. And while the author is grappling with big ideas, it is not in the least dry or didactic. As matter of fact, in many ways, it's very sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. The plot itself is very engrossing, pulling the reader along through its various twists and turns to see where it will go next. The narrative voices are all very distinct and, for the most part, the characters are sympathetic and believable (even if their individual perceptions of things is not always to be trusted). I had a bit of a problem with the Ambitious Mindswallow chapters, whose voice came across less like a modern punk and more like a 1940's anachronism...Leo Gorcey from The Bowery Boys.

The novel asks fundamental questions about what it is that makes us who we are. Obviously, Moses and Alchemy are medically bound by a common thread of DNA, but does a discovery about the identity of Moses’s father (who was entirely absent from his life) change who Moses is in any way? In this day and age, when everyone is just a cheek swab away from knowing their complete genetic make-up, I can’t help but wonder if Bauman is conflating our modern-day obsession with DNA with the Nazi’s perverting of Eugenics for the purpose of “ethnic cleansing."

This is a hugely entertaining epic. Unputdownable. ( )
  blakefraina | Feb 22, 2016 |
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Spanning 1940s to 2020s America, a Pynchon-esque saga about rock music, art, politics, and the elusive nature of love. Meet everyman Moses Teumer, whose recent diagnosis of an aggressive form of leukemia has sent him in search of a donor. When he discovers that the woman who raised him is not his biological mother, he must hunt down his birth parents and unspool the intertwined destinies of the Teumer and Savant families. Salome Savant, Moses's birth mother, is an avant-garde artist who has spent her life in and out of a mental health facility. Her son and Moses's half-brother, Alchemy Savant, the mercurial front man of the world-renowned rock band The Insatiables, abandons music to launch a political campaign to revolutionize 2020s America. And then there's Ambitious Mindswallow, aka Ricky McFinn, who journeys from juvenile delinquency in Queens to being The Insatiables' bassist and Alchemy's Sancho Panza. Bauman skillfully weaves the threads that intertwine these characters and the histories that divide them, creating a postmodern vision of America that is at once sweeping, irreverent, and heartbreaking.… (more)

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