"Are You Sleeping" by Kathleen Barber
I have an embarrassing affinity for reality television programing.
The more salacious the better.
My attachment is so profound that an episode of the cringe-worth Botched was actually playing, on mute, as I gave birth to my second son (Mainly because he was born quite quickly… not because I selected that high-quality program as an appropriate birth-time viewing option).
Though the siren’s call of reality TV is just too tempting for me to resist, I, like many viewers I would like to assume, have taken some time to consider the societal ramifications of this type of programing.
What do these programs ultimately do to the people featured on them?
And, perhaps more importantly, what impact do they have to those in the periphery?
Those whose stories are being told – or rehashed – despite the fact that they personally have not agreed to participate in the retelling.
This question is central to Are You Sleeping the stellar debut from Kathleen Barber.
Josie, the protagonist of this novel, has spent the majority of her life trying to escape her troubled past.
She dedicated a meaningful period of time to backpacking around Europe (which is probably the most glamorous and enjoyable way to forget, TBH)
She even traded her tarnished family moniker of Burhman for a brand-spanking-new last name.
Josie had been surprisingly successful in leaving her past behind. That is until a podcast pops up that draws new attention to what is pretty much the most significant incident from her past that she was trying to escape – the murder of her father.
It seemed to Josie that she should be able to put this incident behind her. After all, the crime was solved and a killer convicted.
But though the once-emo-teen neighbor, Warren Cave, still remains behind bars, serving time for this murder, podcast runner Poppy Parnell (a former investigative journalist who I basically pictured as Nancy Grace but younger and ever so slightly less crazy) asserts that Warren is actually innocent and that justice has most certainly not been served.
Unfortunately for Josie, this podcast, catapults to Making a Murderer levels of popularity pretty much overnight.
This leaves her bathed in limelight and forces her to face her complicated past.
You see, unfortunately for Josie, her father’s murder isn’t the only skeleton in her closet.
As you would expect, things weren’t exactly roses and sunshine after his death either.
Following his murder her mother, who always had a precarious grip on her sanity, lost it completely and ran away to join a cult. Meanwhile, her twin sister, Lanie, floated through her teen years in a cloud of drug usage and promiscuity.
Making matters even more complicated (as if it’s not already fucking complicated enough), Josie’s current live-in boyfriend knows absolutely nothing of this past, as she has always told him that both of her parents died in a decidedly benign manner.
So she just needs to prevent him from hearing the podcast, right?
That can’t be that hard.
Well, not quite.
Before Josie can even craft a simple plan like this something-fucking-else happens, literally forcing her to go home and actually face the demons she has, despite her best efforts, failed to outrun.
Complexed and layered, this plot grabs you from the start and – like Josie’s past – hangs on tight.
From chapter one, readers are immersed in Josie’s life and invested in her as a flawed-but-real character.
To my delight, the prose in this novel was beautifully lyrical. This is one of those books that it just feels wonderful to read (which is seriously like the unicorn factor I am always seeking in a book, so thanks for that, Kathleen Barber)
When it comes to faults, I can identify only two.
One is, admittedly, miniscule.
Josie – who works very part time at a bookstore and her boyfriend – who does something Peace-corps-ish – live in New York City in an apartment that, at least it would seem, isn’t super shitty.
I mean, okay… I guess… there was just a part of me (probably the part that was always fearful of becoming a starving artist and literally subsisting on a diet of stale bread and toilet wine) that really questioned whether this level of living would be possible with the level of salaries our protagonist and her gentleman love would be bringing in.
But really, my NYC experience begins and ends with Real Housewives of New York City, so my perception might be a little warped.
My other issue is a bit more significant.
Listen, I’ve had the worst luck with endings lately.
And, admittedly, this one wasn’t horrible.
But it also wasn’t amazing.
I felt like the climax just wasn’t quite climactic enough.
As readers, we were going up-up-up on that roller coaster (which felt really good) but then we never went down that big hill.
We just sorta… coasted.
That said, however, the ending was logical and the answer to the driving question of “Who done it?” was pretty believable.
It was just that the way in which this key question was answered – and how quickly the book came to a close after – left me wanting more.
Were it not for the ending, this would have easily been a five cocktail read.
As it stands, however, I would still entirely recommend this book. (In fact, I probably will foist it upon friends and unsuspecting strangers for quite a while – especially now that I hear that it will be a movie starring the amazing Octavia Spencer).
All considered, I give it 4 out of 5 cocktails.
Honestly, if I gave half cocktails, this would have been a 4 ½ out of 5, but half-sized cocktails are just…sad.
Now that I’m done with this review, I’m already chomping at the bit for my next book. What will it be? Follow me, here, to find out.
What’s your take on reality TV? Are you a lover, or a loather? Be honest. Tell me about it in the comments, below.