Broken Sleep

Publication Date: Nov 03, 2015

656 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $16.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 9781590514481


List Price US $14.99
ISBN: 9781590514498

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.

Excerpt from Broken Sleep

“Mr. Lively, if you or he won’t help me, I am going to die.”

Lively’s expression went dark as if the fuse to his emotional box had blown out. He uncrossed his legs and leaned back. “I’m leaving for Houston later tonight. It’s my granddaughter’s sweet sixteen tomorrow and I am not missing that. Family means something to me.” His slow Texas accent, laden with the air of gentility, unnerved Moses.

“If I can’t see him, I at least need to talk to him.”

Lively leaned forward, “May I be so bold as to ask you a favor?”


“When you talk to your mother, Hannah, say hello for me.”

“So, you knew her?”

“We’d met when they were still married. Attractive woman.”

“So, you’ll help me?”

“I’ll try.” Using his cane he pushed himself up. They followed and all three turned toward the door.

* * *

Jay and Moses rode the elevator in silence, attempting to absorb what they’d just seen and heard. As they stepped gingerly outside and crossed the street, Jay squeezed his hand. Suspicious Lively had planted a bug on them, she whispered, “You’re a good man, no matter who your father is.” She half-grinned. “Or how distasteful his friends are…”

That night, Moses, listening to Jay’s steady breathing, fell in and out of the semi-alert state where dreams seem real and reality seems dream-like. At 6 a.m. he pushed himself out of bed, the maxim he often stressed to his students racing through his head: One person’s version of history is another person’s version of an incomplete truth.

“A plangent tour de force of epic proportions…Broken Sleep’s amalgam of distinct perspectives creates an incoherent coherence that challenges and rewards in turn. Both a nightmare and a dream, this work successfully engages with eternal questions of truth and evil to form a solid and captivating literary experience.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“In this mind-bending work of fiction that entwines generations and continents, each character represents contemporary life’s most existential crises…Although Moses Teumer loses his way among a swelling cast of characters, Bauman never loses his authorial way. As the plot spins out of control, Bauman is always, somehow, bringing his characters back home again.” —Shelf Awareness

“Big-thinking…a postmodern epic.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Readers who like their fiction on the wacky side will appreciate the rollicking energy.” —Booklist

“Vibrant, captivating, and touching…Broken Sleep is brimming with colorful characters, fascinating dialogue, and beautiful yet tragic relationships, making it easy to read and hard to forget.” —PopMatters

“A literary novel with a great plot. …[Broken Sleep] is a funny novel, but it’s also an incredibly serious emotional novel in a way we don’t get nowadays so much.” —David Kipen, KPCC Take Two

“Such a pleasure to plunge into this joyous kaleidoscope of a novel, a multi-voiced tumbling chorus of outrageous characters, hidden parenthood, secrets and discoveries, the gritty outré art world of the 1970s, rockers and mad visionaries and a man named Moses who just wants to live his life when illness forces him to open up the closed door of his family’s mysterious past. I haven’t seen a book with such energy and joy and sweeping delights since The World According to Garp. Bauman’s novel is a tour de force.” —Janet Fitch, author of Paint It Black and White Oleander

“Consuming multitudes of novels before it and after, Bruce Bauman’s flipbook-epic spectacularly shuffles voice and memory—a careening travelogue on psychic terrains of fate, art, sex, madness, history, philosophy, rock ’n’ roll, the personal political, and laws of identity for which no statute of limitations can exist. This is raging, inspiration-jacked literary insomnia at the deepest hour of our brilliant dreaming.” —Steve Erickson, author of These Dreams of You and Zeroville

Broken Sleep is a stunning, original, unpredictable novel, with a mix of wild voices and riveting, driving stories. I love all the characters—the rebel Salome, sad Moses fighting for his life, the incredibly charismatic Alchemy, the much-abused Absurda, and that troublesome Mindswallow. The world that Bauman imagines is chilling and vivid, and there is an abundance of wisdom throughout the book, with startling insights on every page. The novel is a brilliant success—brave, wonderfully eccentric, utterly confident, and engrossing.” —Joanna Scott, author of De Potter’s Grand Tour

“Bruce Bauman’s Broken Sleep is a rare bird: a sprawling, encyclopedic narrative, partly a meditation on the nature of art and storytelling, partly a family saga, and perhaps rarest of all an experimental novel that’s also very readable. A high-risk enterprise with a similarly high pay off.” —Geoff Nicholson, author of The City Under the Skin

Broken Sleep is an unabashedly Big Think book that refuses to be categorized. On the surface it’s a roller coaster, jetting forward with ideas/observations on everything from avant-garde art to rock ’n’ roll renown to history and philosophy. Yet beneath the surface it is also a warm-hearted exploration of the deep messiness of families. Of parents, present and absent, and their children. Of siblings and spouses and volitional families of friends and bandmates. It’s a simultaneously poignant and exhilarating ride.” —Melvin Jules Bukiet, author of After

“Bruce Bauman is one of the most engaging and engaged writers and thinkers that I know.” —Rebecca Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex

“A synesthetic and unfettered book that cascades between a quartet of voices to depict a family not so much broken as fractured over several generations, and shifts in art and politics from the 60s and, prophetically, into our future.  A stunning, lively and funny evisceration of American art, culture, and politics, and of the links connecting them.” —Brian Evenson, author of The Open Curtain

  1. On page 37 Nathaniel says, “Irony without empathy is empty and juvenile.” What do you think of how irony is used in Broken Sleep?
  2. On page 94 Alchemy is described as “slowly transforming from meditating monk into the quintessence of rock star cool.” On page 216 Salome asks, “Would Scott Savant have become leader of the Insatiables?” Why do you think Salome named her son Alchemy? Why was she so against him calling himself Scott? What kind of power do the names of the characters have over their narratives, if any?
  3. Each of the main characters in Broken Sleep narrates individual chapters, except for Alchemy. Why do you think the author chose not to write from Alchemy’s point of view? What effect does it have on you as a reader for Alchemy to occupy such a large space in the narrative without his ever speaking for himself?
  4. Identity is a central question for many of the characters in Broken Sleep, no one more so than Moses, who learns that his father is not a survivor of the Holocaust, but actually a Nazi perpetrator. How was Moses’s identity shaped by who he thought his father was, and how does it change after he learns the truth?
  5. What are the differences between how Alchemy describes his mother and how Salome tells her own story? Compare what Alchemy says on page 429 (“My mom was taken from me when she flipped out at the gallery…I couldn’t get my mom out of Collier Layne”) to those events as Salome relates them. Which one of them seems to be the more reliable narrator? Why?
  6. There are several families in Broken Sleep. What causes the dysfunction that characterizes many of them? Why is it that Moses and Jay are able to reunite while Mindswallow and Absurda are doomed, despite their facing some of the same problems? Do you think the Insatiables could be considered a family?
  7. How are women and their bodies, particularly in relation to their ability to give birth, treated in this novel? What similarities do Absurda, Salome, and Laluna share?
  8. Describe the relationship between Alchemy and Salome. On page 214 Alchemy tells her, “I think Grandma Hilda never forgave you for asking me about my name and never forgave me for answering ‘Alchemy.’ And you’ve never forgiven me for using Scott when we lived in Virginia.” Why do you think Salome had such difficulties accepting the other women in Alchemy’s life?
  9. Salome describes Moses’s “soulsmell” as “morbidly bland steamed white rice” (p 425) and calls him the “spawn of Malcolm” (p 444). How does Salome—her initial belief that he doesn’t exist, her rejection of him—shape Moses’s identity?
  10. On page 429 Alchemy explains, “I only know how to do things all the way—victory or death.” Who do you think fires the gunshot that causes his death? Do you think that in the end Alchemy chooses death?
  11. Are you a suicider or a homicider?