cover image Insomniac City: A Memoir

Insomniac City: A Memoir

Bill Hayes. Bloomsbury, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-62040-493-5

Hayes’s tender memoir is a love letter—to New York City and to renowned science writer Oliver Sacks. Devastated by the sudden death of a longtime partner, Hayes (The Anatomist) relocated from San Francisco to Manhattan, where he became enamored with the strange rituals and brusque charm of the locals. At roughly the same time, he entered a relationship with Sacks, whose magisterial prose and celebrity concealed the fact that he’d been celibate for 35 years and never had a serious romantic attachment. Hayes explores his fascination with his new home and growing intimacy with the unworldly, brilliant man three decades his senior who was experiencing true love for the first time. In a mélange of journal entries, photos, scenes, and meditations, Hayes reconstructs his immersion in New York and the flowering of his involvement with Sacks, a romance cut short by the fatal return of Sacks’s cancer. Hayes’s stylistic approach provides immediacy to his recollections, imbuing conversations with cab drivers and the clerk at the local bodega with significance that resonates past the superficial mundanity. Sacks wrote until the very end, and his public examination of his impending death and sexual orientation help to make Hayes’s understated descriptions of their life together remarkably poignant. Readers will find themselves wishing the two men had more time, but as Hayes makes clear, they wasted none of the time they had. (Feb.)