Inspired Sleep is a clever
novel with a fashionable focus on psychopharmacology. It has two main characters, and the format of the novel is to
tell the story from their different perspectives in alternating chapters, with
occasional interruptions of chapters devoted to other writings such as newspaper
clippings and messages in an e-mail group.
Ian Ogelvie is a research scientist at a
Boston General Hospital, working on experimental medications that help with anxiety,
depression and disturbed sleep patterns.
He is twenty-nine years old and is already well published in the top
scientific journals of his field. He is
very excited by the positive initial results from the study he is currently
engaged in; the spiders on the new medication weave perfect webs and the
fighting fish no longer fight. But as
the story unfolds, it becomes clearer that the new drug has side effects that
are troubling, and he starts to better understand the role of money and
corporate interests in the supposedly neutral field of science. Ians life slips inexorably off the fast
track of success into crisis.
Bonnie Saks is approaching middle age, and
her life is not all she imagined it would be; indeed, its a life of almost
everyday crisis. She is divorced,
looking after her two sons, and trying to scrape a living by teaching English
to local college students in the low-prestige and low-pay position of adjunct
professor. She has all but abandoned
her Ph.D. dissertation on Thoreau. Her
sleep is highly disturbed, and most nights she lies awake for hours preoccupied
by her troubles, noting the passing of minutes on her bedside alarm clock. Her younger son still has problems
controlling his bladder and her older son is on Prozac. She has occasional visits from her lover, a
successful literary theorist, and she thinks she might be pregnant again. At a parents meeting, she meets Larry
Arbeit, who tells her about the new experimental medication project he has
volunteered for, which makes him feel great.
She thinks that Larry may be making advances to her, and she is not sure
how to react. Eventually she also
becomes interested in also trying the new medication to help with her
An obvious comparison to make is between this
novel and Jonathan Franzens The
Corrections, which also explores the role of psychotropic medication in
modern American life; another is with David Lodges recent novel Thinks... focusing on the mind-body problem, but Cohens
work suffers in these comparisons. The
story moves along with some energy, and it has a pleasing breadth of vision, but
Cohen tends to indulge himself in long overwritten paragraphs, and he flirts
with many themes without exploring them sufficiently. The secondary characters
are rather flimsy, and its hard even to become very concerned for the welfare
of the primary characters. Nevertheless, its an interesting work and
should interest many readers who wonder whether our lives are getting better as
we take more pills to help us with our troubles.
© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island.
He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring
how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help
foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the
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