Book review: Sleepwalk by Don Chaon

sleepwalk dan chaonThe narrator of Sleepwalk is a man of many aliases, who calls himself the Barely Blur. He lives off grid in the US, doing contract work of varying degrees of illegality for a shadowy company. He lives in a world which appears to be chronologically near the present, and like ours, but more so. Climate breakdown, abandoned towns, militias, robot drones, he has to dodge them all as he travels across the US in his camper van with his only trusted companion, Flip, a dog he rescued from a crime scene.

Then, despite all his subterfuge, he is contacted via a burner phone by a young woman who claims to be his biological daughter, Cammie. While living in Chicago as a young man, he was a sperm donor and she says she is a product of that sperm. It is the one time he left a footprint on public records.

He suspects a scam and is concerned that his secrecy has been penetrated. He speaks to his underworld contacts to find the truth. He suspects Cammie is an AI and someone means him harm. But Cammie keeps calling and he begins to picture fatherhood. He wants to believe and suddenly he is concerned that his actions might place his ‘daughter’ in the way of harm.

We also earn more of the Barely Blur’s past – his chaotic mother, his induction into criminality, his brief period in Chicago where he led something approaching a normal life. Meanwhile he has to decide who is friend and foe as he searches for the truth, while trying to keep Cammie and himself safe.

I love the voice of the Barely Blur. He’s an engaging character, despite some of his actions, and he recalls his own past trials without self-pity. There’s a warm, self-aware humour to his observations on the world he lives in, and a curiosity and love of learning, despite (because of?) his lack of conventional education.

Sleepwalk is a pacy and thought-provoking dystopian thriller but there is another layer. The Barely Blur is, he tells us, a man who is microdosing on LSD to push back “the horrors”. We could discount his perceptions as paranoia. Conversely, in portraying a world which is recognisable but slightly aslant from ours, is Chaon’s title a warning to us all?

I received a copy of Sleepwalk from the publisher via NetGalley.
View Sleepwalk on Goodreads

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