Bernard Schwartz has lost his wife, his career, and finally, thanks to the accidental combination of two classes of antidepressants, his consciousness. He emerges from a coma to find his son Chris, the perpetual smart-ass, and his daughter Cathy, a Jewish teen turned self-martyred Catholic, stumbling headlong toward trauma-induced maturity. The Sleeping Father is about the loss of innocence, the disorienting innocence of second childhood, the biochemical mechanics of sanity and love, the nature of language and meaning, and the spirituality of selfhood. But most of all it is about the Schwartzes, a singular yet typical American family, making their way the best way they know how in a small town called Bellwether, Connecticut.
The Sleeping Father is the talk of the literary world at the moment. It's the breakout book from a respected but little-known writer, published by a respected but small publisher who paid a mere $1,000 advance for it. The buzz started when The Sleeping Father received a full page review in the New York Times Book Review - a very coveted thing indeed and almost unheard of for a paperback original. Then the novelist Susan Isaacs chose it as the February Today show book club pick. At the time of writing it's in its 3rd printing with a total of 40,000 copies in print. Still small fry compared with the Grishams of this world but nonetheless very credible.
Having finished reading it a few days ago this reviewer is still trying to work out what to make of it. It's cleverly written, there are no end of memorable one-liners and the irony never lets up. However, this becomes a little exhausting after a bit and prevented this reviewer from caring sufficiently about the characters to either laugh with them, or at them.
This is the sort of book that readers are likely to love or hate, if you've enjoyed books such as The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, then you're likely to fall into the former category. Decide for yourself whether it might be for you by reading the first 25 pages exclusively at BookBrowse.
The New York Times - Claire Dederer
Sharpe's arch tone is charmingly at odds with the sprawling, inclusive structure of The Sleeping Father. His raised-eyebrow formality suggests a host surveying unwanted guests, yet he keeps waving more and more characters in the front door. He's a rare find an ironist who actually seems to like other people.
The Village Voice - Ed Park
Matthew Sharpe's The Sleeping Father is two novels in one—an imploding-family masterpiece every bit as heart-piercing as The Corrections, and a stylistically thrilling inquiry into the weight of words. It's a treasure-house of gleaming deadpan sentences (sample chapter-spanning juxtaposition They had a nice time on the couch until the sun went down, followed by Three hours before summer arrived in California, it arrived in Connecticut). It's sad, to the degree that this reader instinctively closed his eyes right at the moment it became clear something very ugly was about to happen. It's resplendent with aching absurdities, word salads, inspired semicolon deployment, golden-eared teenage monologues. It's the best thing I hope to read all year—and if it isn't, this will be a very good year indeed... The Sleeping Father is genuine sui generis genius comic family novel writing.
At once tragic and madcap, Sharpe's second novel offers an acidly funny portrait of a diminished nuclear unit coping with its patriarch's pharmacologically induced stroke....Readers of alternative and literary fiction should appreciate Sharpe's clearly drawn characters and his thoughtful, if withering, examination of the contemporary hierarchies of family and authority.
Ann Tyler (in a New York Times interview)
[F]resh, funny, quirky
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