Sleep No More

The ravages of insomnia

When blake Butler was a child, he would shriek for his mother in the middle of the night, not recognizing her when she tried to calm him. As he reached adulthood, his night terrors took shape as chronic sleeplessness, "the brain coming on inside the worn-down body as if to spite it," as the novelist writes in his powerful semi-memoir Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia, which travels among topics including psychopharmacology, homicidal somnambulism and dementia (Butler's father is trapped in the shrinking prison of Alzheimer's). The klieg-light intensity of Butler's writing ("Time is screaming, life is over, unending night is coming...

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