Sleep Has No Master by Jon Konrath

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Sleep Has No Master

Author:  Jon Konrath

Type of Book:  Fiction, themed short story collection, lunacy

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  I don’t even know how to tell you all the ways this book is odd.  I am mostly reminded of this Hunter S. Thompson quote:

Weird heroes and mold-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of ‘the rat race’ is not yet final.

Availability:  Published by Paragraph Line Books in 2012, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  This book gave me the fear.  Like I was going to go full Gonzo-paranoid and end up locking myself in the backyard shed with a gallon of whiskey and a loaded gun.  As I read parts of the book, I thought, “I wrote this.  I wrote this book and I forgot and Konrath sent it to me in some passive aggressive ruse in order to show me he has access to my thoughts and computer and probably even my medicine cabinet.”  I read the title chapter out loud to Mr. Oddbooks, who peered at me nervously from his side of the bed, no doubt wondering if I had had (another) psychotic break (there was a… problem when I read a particular Zippy the Pinhead cartoon that referenced the Oscar Meyer Wiener-mobile, but that was years ago).

A quick summary of the book is likely in order:  this is a short story collection that tells the tales of a dude who does stuff, sometimes alone, sometimes with his loser friends.   Through these dudes, Konrath hits on too many details of my life for this book to be legal.  Some of the topics that include details far too specific for my comfort: insomnia, unlikely car customizations, Varg Vikernes, specific conspiracy theories, a complete inability to use eye drops as a child, over-the-counter sleep aids, corpulent Asians friends, microsleep, the bizarre belief that one’s eyelashes are inverting back into one’s eyelid (mine grow sideways, toward my nose, and it’s a problem), spending most of one’s work days searching eBay listings, self-torture via medical sites, Crispin Glover, gg allin, disgust for how badly movies tended to represent computer capabilities in the 80s, the Voynich Manuscript, fear of what diet sodas may be doing to my brain, and so much more.  This book is, when I can tamp down the paranoia, deeply funny, verging on hilarious at times, but the paranoia lurks because who really could have so many weird idiosyncrasies in common unless something nefarious is happening?

The story “Sleep Has No Master” contains a paragraph that pretty much confirmed for me that Konrath needs to go to jail, the fucker, because I know I wrote this at some point:

I started researching sleep disorders online, the usual death spiral of fanatical WebMD queries, and stumbled upon something called fatal familial insomnia.  It’s an incredibly rare four-stage inherited prion disease that starts with progressively-worsening insomnia and panic attacks.  Then you dive into a wonderful world of Nixon-esque paranoia and vivid hallucinations.  By the third stage, you cannot sleep at all, and your body starts breaking down with rapid weight loss.  It all leads up to a crippling dementia, before you finally buy the farm.  Barbiturates and induced comas, which you’d think would knock you out, actually speed up the disease.  In one famous case, the doctors completely nuked the patient with heavy sedatives, but his brain would not shut down.  This is the exact kind of thing you don’t want to read at 3 AM when you’ve been awake for 40 hours straight and you’re trying  to find some homeopathic bullshit to turn off your brain for the evening.

Seriously, I am rethinking the microwave brain readers that Gloria Naylor insisted were used to read her thoughts.  You know how when your cats freak out and run frantically into the other room, only to stop immediately and then stare, wild-eyed at the wall?  I think that’s when Konrath is warming up the brain-microwave.  

“The Nostradamus Scat Porn Prophecies” is a story.  It really is.  Beyond this quote, I cannot comment on it:

Woodrow Wilson will eventually return to Earth using a wormhole portal locator designed by H.G. Wells and hidden in the hollowed-out husk of a rhinoceros penis, to tell everyone that he was not responsible for anything Glenn Beck said, except that he did bang Leni Reifenstahl in a bathhouse, albeit strictly anal.  I never pay attention to politics, so I don’t know.  I don’t care.  Politics is like the dumb man’s version of snuff films: it shouldn’t be legal, involves extensive police bribery if you don’t want to get caught, and takes place in shitty motels with bad carpeting.  Hunter S. Thompson was the first and last person to write honestly and honorably about politics and we all know how that turned out.

I know for a fact that HST spent a lot of time in the garden shed with a gallon of whiskey and a loaded shot gun.  We all know this fact.  It’s a given.

But it wasn’t until “The Marshall Manifesto” that I understood that Konrath needs to be stopped.  Seriously.  This story revolves around one of the narrator’s loser friends, named Marshall Applewhite (not that Marshall Applewhite), and it is suitably lunatic and enjoyable, but it was this passage that more or less ensured that I will one day seek vengeance against Konrath because aside from the part about the telegraph transmissions, this is just way too on the nose for me, a woman who has had dreams of Ludmila, one of the supposed lost cosmonauts.

My Bighikistan high school experience involved roughly the same amount of antagonism and torture as a Muslim fundamentalist growing up in the rural south: the magic triumvirate of hazings, beatings, and shunning.  Instead of being over-involved in high school football or going to a church that decreed that everything from pinball machines to left-handed thread bolts were Satanic, I spent most of high school obsessed with the failed Russian lunar lander program, masturbating to obsolete telegraph transmission protocols, and trying to decode the Voynich Manuscript, a 15th century codex that has yet to be broken.  That meant my circle of friends consisted almost entirely of Fat Mike, Marshall, and this other guy named Ricky, who majored in shop class and later stole a National Guard M-60 tank and went on a three-state rampage.

“This Is Like a Dog Trying to Crap a Peach Pit” is also a story, in a way, and discusses the relative inanity of animated films as well as the awesomeness and complete horror of flea markets and auction sites.  It begins with a paragraph that would trigger a less medicated woman.

I was trying to pitch a sitcom yesterday at Pixar about Norwegian church burnings, and the reception area had this huge bowl of Up-themed promotional anal beads.  “Tax write-off,” said Rayat Beherduk, my screen-writing partner and extreme black metal consultant.  (I don’t know much about Black Metal, and every time I try to call Fat Mike and ask him some involved question about Dimmu Borgir, he goes on a four-hour tirade about why Stacy Keibler hasn’t done porn yet.)

I dare you to try to write a paragraph with more pop and fringe culture references.  You can’t do it.  You’ll cramp up.  Then we get this paragraph, which is also weirdly specific to my set of interests as well as being really funny.

Once eBay came online, I spent many man-years at my job as a dermatological technical writer cruising through the lists of obsolete computers, beaten motorbikes, and lightly-used competitive enema equipment, instead of writing about topical medication for dematophytoses.  But much like my neighbor’s anger at missing the boat on beef certification, I’m now chronically depressed that I never parlayed my time in the late 90s on eBay into any fame or fortune by flipping beanie babies or buying heavily undervalued classic cars and selling high for massive profit.  A dozen years later, and I’m trying to pitch animated sitcoms about Varg Vikernes and Burzum.

Okay, all joking aside, I feel really strange encountering someone else who more or less has the same pop culture and social references I do.  And he’s a dude.  And it’s also completely unsettling because now I sort of get how insane I come across in real life.  Yeah.  This book was an education even though I’d more or less read it all before BECAUSE IT CAME STRAIGHT FROM MY BRAIN.

“Princess Di’s Mercedes and the Dead Man’s ASL Chimp” is possibly the funniest story in the book.  It’s a snack-sized version of J.G. Ballard’s Crash, mashed together with enormous bowel movements, a tiny BAMF Asian mother, autopsy reports, a Boba Fett suit, an angry monkey, poorly functioning elevators, deep fried in a police scanner, and liberally seasoned with images of my very wonderful friend, Arafat Kazi.  I mean, I don’t know if Konrath actually knows my friend, whom I also know as Futhman, but I see Arafat every time Fat Mike is mentioned in this book.  Fat Mike is what Arafat would be if he smoked pot all day rather than drinking scotch and pretended to be a dead princess rather than dote on his cats and play the drums.  If Konrath doesn’t know Futhman, he needs to introduce himself and send him a copy of this book in thanks for being a retroactive inspiration.

My pal Fat Mike had some deep obsession with Princess Di conspiracy theories, and spent countless hours trying to convince everyone she was killed by the CEO of a landmine manufacturer.  Aside from spending his free time photoshopping her likeness onto a variety of pornography, he ran with a group of guys who cos-played and re-enacted her death by driving junk cars into viaduct walls at high speed while in drag.  They’d been looking for the genuine article, a cheap Mercedes, for years, but always had to settle for low-end Korean imports, doctored up with fake Mercedes placards they scored at a Chinatown replica maker on the down-low.

The story also contains this exchange:

“Hassids can’t push buttons or work electronics on the Sabbath, so they have Shabbat elevators that stop on every floor.  And I thought DefCon 5 was the one right before nuclear war.”

“No, DefCon 1 is right before the missiles launch.”

“I don’t think so.  It was in fuckin’ WarGames.”

“That movie was about as scientifically accurate as a Southern Pentecostal church pastor that’s been eating lead paint,” I said.  “Ferris Bueller breaks into NORAD with a 300-baud acoustic-link modem AND he gets to bang Ally Sheady (sic)?”

See, crap like that haunts me, from this inexplicable A Flock of Seagulls video wherein the gormless singer prints out a high-quality photo of his beloved on a dot matrix printer to all the computer scenes in the movie adaptation of The Rachel PapersReal Genius was good enough that you could sort of tune out the crappy computer stuff, but we all know what happened to Val Kilmer, so succeeding in this realm has its price.

“Dwarf Meth Madness” begins in a manner that I think we can all identify with – buying deodorizing products to reduce the stench of cat in our homes.  The narrator works in a record store and Nick Hornby-on-LSD-style conversations ensue.

“Why do people burn sage at new building ceremonies?” Uncle Iggy asked.

“Because uranium is more expensive,” I said.  “How the fuck am I supposed to know anything about this mystic hippie bullshit?  I grew up in a state where not mentioning Jesus in every third sentence was punishable by law.”

Because he’s an asshole, Konrath is also not afraid to get quasi-meta with it.  From “Oil Change Introspection Therapy”:

The oil change took hours, days, while I camped out in the quickie lube waiting room, crowded in a Zodiac lifeboat I managed to pull out of my trunk before they took my car away. It contained everything I needed to preoccupy myself for the next week or two: a bunch of tablet-ized food rations, a desalinator, marker dye, a deck of naked lady playing cards.  I took my copy of Rumored to Exist by Jon Konrath and a Satanic Bible to keep busy.  I initially thought the service would take fifteen minutes, as advertised, but the idiots pulled my entire engine and started bringing it piece by piece into the waiting room, asking me, “do you think you want to replace this?  It looks worn out.”  I called a lawyer, but corporations are people, and people are assholes, so I had no choice but to ride out their busking attempts.

While there he gets an e-mail from a girl who sent a sexually-perverse message to the wrong man and he reminisces about college, when he met her.  But that shit was tiresome and one can argue he got what was coming to him because he took this girl to a Taco Bell and ran statistics on how traces of Diet Pepsi people drank when they got Mountain Dew from the auto-refill counter might make pilots have seizures.  He is abruptly ripped from his reveries:

The mechanic called me from the front counter of the oil shop.  He held a piece of a fuel injector that didn’t even belong to my car, caked with carbon, dried peanut butter, and dog shit, an obvious ploy to get the gullible to fall for their $200 “injector cleaner” treatment.  Can’t a man get any errand done without some nameless corporation trying to tack on yet another fucking unneeded service?  Time to go into Beast Mode, I thought.  Tell these fucking savages a new filter and five quarts of the lowest grade oil, nothing more.

It is his gift for fine hyperbole that makes Konrath hark back to the better rants from Hunter S. Thompson.  Swine, savages and corporations all fucking with the honest and often completely baked man.  Konrath manages to create a sort of HST-rage and humor and sieves it through an absurd filter to avoid the pastiches that most people who channel HST end up with.

There’s some actual meta in the story “50 Shades of Napalm,” wherein Konrath digresses into his experiences buying a home:

I’m also in the middle of buying a house, and I had to sign and fax about a thousand pages of stuff to our mortgage people, and I considered taking something like a State of California Hazardous Materials Disclosure form and retyping the whole thing but replacing “underground tank” with “throbbing cock” and “asbestos paint” with “underaged cunt,” but that’s too much work, especially since all of the documents are PDFs, and I’d have to run them through some kind of OCR software, and that would involve forty days and forty nights of shopping for said software, then paying three hundred bucks for something that would eventually turn the disclosure form into the textual equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting.

We closed on our house on Halloween.  The bank personnel were dressed up because nothing says solid, financial stability like five slightly overweight women dressed as cats wandering around the office, offering orange and black sprinkled cookies.  A woman in a BoPeep costume handled the largest financial transaction I have ever been involved with and likely ever will be.  The dude selling the house was a retired marine and he seemed like he hated us – he refused to make any sort of small talk or make eye contact and basically threw the keys at us when the last paper was signed and he and his stunned wife hied themselves out of the bank.  We later learned that our house is subject to intermittent spells wherein sections of the house take on aspects of non-Euclidean geometry. You don’t want to look at the doorways too long in this house.  I get vertigo looking out from the master bedroom into the hallway and landing because, from certain angles, the ceiling disappears.  I should take pictures when it’s really bad.  We hung some paintings of H.P. Lovecraft at the top of the staircase, hoping to show our willingness to work with the house and not disturb whatever eldritch abomination lurks beneath.  So far we’ve been okay except for some foundation damage and all the goddamn cats.

But I digresss…

Jesus Christ, Konrath and I should never be in the same room together.

I think ultimately what makes this book so fucking good is not that it clearly ripped off all of my memories and crammed them into a short story collection.  It is so good because Konrath knows how to take the irritations of just being alive and turn them into something that some might call Kafkaesque, but I won’t because I fear hipsters showing up and yelling at me for being so lame as to use the term.  Nevertheless, Konrath has a keen eye for the details of mundane life and how they just absolutely suck.  I recall Robert Crumb saying that he tended to blank out urban blight – like how electricity poles looked and the way urban streets were laid out – and he had to take pictures of such places and objects in order to reproduce them accurately in his drawings.  Such things are visually unappealing but a drawing of a city street would be incomplete without them.  Konrath is intimately familiar with blight – the eternal cosmic noise and pop culture references and memes and endless, almost Tarantino-esque conversations that make up the lives of the ordinary and often completely insane modern man.  He finds a pathos where other writers might find ennui.  He creates humor where others might find disaffected annoyance.  To make the small indignities, random events and looming horrors of this life so very funny while maintaining a genuinely absurdist edge is its own genius.  Konrath is, in his own unsettling way, a weird hero.

I cannot state emphatically enough how funny this book is.  It was funny on a soul level, so specifically funny that it really did ring my paranoia bell until my increasingly diminishing common sense kicked in.

I say read this. Read it now.  Now now now!  Read and let me know what references Konrath stole from your brain.  I cannot file a class action lawsuit on my own, you know.

Highly recommended.

9 thoughts on “Sleep Has No Master by Jon Konrath

  1. It is truly weird that I just read this review today, then sat down to read my Biological Psychology text book for only 10 minutes before I encountered this sentence:

    “In a rare human autosomal dominate disorder called fatal familial insomnia (FFI) in which individuals cannot sleep, death usually occurs after about six to 30 months.”

    I had never even heard of FFI before today. Someone please channel William Burroughs and ask him what the fuck is going on.

    1. William got back to me. He said to let it all wash over you because synchronicity is benign and paranoia indicates new knowledge has been obtained. I had taken a muscle relaxer beforehand so, you know, proceed with caution.

      As a chronic non-sleeper, I knew about FFI as soon as the online medical sites began to reference it. And then I learned about prion diseases as a whole and became very nearly paralyzed thinking about all the horrible ways there are to die. There are so many…

      1. Still no cure,unfortunately, but there are some promising leads. A German doctor has claimed that the disease can be cured by removing the “unnecesitated bits,” by which he means everything North of the brain stem, which not only turns the patient into a vegetable, but does nothing to slow the disease. An American psychiatrist claims that it can be cured via Pavlovian conditioning. His early research showed promise, but his patients had an unfortunate tendency towards becoming giant, man-eating centipedes. A certain Dr. Benway claims to have come up with a formula for a drug that could slow or even reverse the disease, but his assistant, Violet, ate it. As of today, sadly, treatment is symptomatic.

  2. Which reminds me of this (I’m not citing it, because it’ll ruin the fun):

    “There were lymph glands that might do him in. There were kidneys, nerve sheaths and corpuscles. There were tumors of the brain. There was Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. There were fertile red meadows of epithelial tissue to catch and coddle a cancer cell. There were diseases of the skin, diseases of the bone, diseases of the lung, diseases of the stomach, diseases of the heart, blood and arteries. There were diseases of the head, diseases of the neck, diseases of the chest, diseases of the intestines, diseases of the crotch. There were even diseases of the feet. There were billions of conscientious body cells oxidating away day and night like dumb animals at their complicated job of keeping him alive and healthy, and every one was a potential traitor and foe. There were so many diseases that it took a truly diseased mind to even think about them as often as he and Hungry Joe did.”

    Thank William for me next time you’re stoned on pharmaceuticals. I’m going out to shoot some paint cans.

  3. Ok, so I wrote this book something like six years ago. And I haven’t re-read this review since then. (Revisiting it because of your book.) And now I’m half-convinced I didn’t actually write this book, mostly because I don’t remember it. I should probably go back and re-read my own book, but that’s always problematic.

    1. Until we meet in the presence of a neutral third party, I think we have to assume that we are the same person, Jon. I feel sort of fictional at times so there is also the possibility neither of us exist at all. Didn’t you (or I) write a book called RUMORED TO EXIST? It’s all beginning to make sense…

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