February 2010

Dustin Luke Nelson

fiction

The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson

Comedian/actor/screenwriter DC Pierson’s debut novel about aspiring comic book artist Darren Bennett and his dorky cohort Eric Lederer is a charming story of high school life as a nerd. The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To feels like one of those rare, honest coming-of-age portraits, except one of the characters has never slept in his life and may have an imaginary villain, who has come to life, chasing after him.

A simple plot synopsis of The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep sounds like science fiction. But it truly owes far more to the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or the comic book worshiping literary hybrids of Jonathan Lethem than it does to Phillip K. Dick or Arthur C. Clarke.

Pierson captures the essential awkwardness of high school life with verisimilitude. Every moment -- from talking to girls to experimenting with drugs, coping with divorce to falling asleep in class -- is captured as keen observations that are generally absent in tales of high school adventure. Whereas most literary renditions of teenage life involve someone wise beyond their years, or situations that more closely resemble college, than the life of some living under their parents' roof, The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep revels in that feeling of being small yet full of potential, the often ironic powerlessness of youth.

The realism present is put into sharp contrast by the world of possibility that Eric’s revelation brings to Darren. It is a small drop of the fantastic in the midst of an utterly believable world. The pair spend the majority of their free time developing Darren’s elaborate sci-fi world, which is “too big for three movies,” even with novels “filling in the gaps.” A side effect of Eric’s not sleeping makes objects of his imagination manifest themselves in the world, including “The Man,” a dark suited Mr. Smith-type character who is after Eric for his unique ability.

Eric comes to represent everything Darren, and most teenagers, really want in life: a loving household, deep pockets of knowledge (developed because he has nothing else to do while the world sleeps), the lack of rules that govern most people’s lives, something secret that sets you apart from the rest of the world. Eric proves to Darren that the opinions of his classmates, his brother, his father, and his teachers, are of little relevance in a world where anything is suddenly possible.

But like his imagination, or a dream from youth, Darren must betray Eric to save himself, if only for a moment. The framing story is Darren’s great apology for this betrayal. Darren sits, in college, writing out the entirety of his story, chronicling the extent of his betrayal. While the characters on the peripheries often feel like caricatures, The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep is full of suspense, and it's an engaging coming-of-age story. It’s often a little too narrow to capture Darren’s rapidly expanding world, but it is playful, clever, and pleasantly off the wall.

The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson
Vintage
ISBN: 0307474615
240 Pages