HOT EVENTS MGT MAGAZINE VISITING ARCHIVE MGT PARTNERS MGT TEAM
My Gay Tortonto - We Recommend

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me - Bill Hayes' remarkable memoir and hymn to life


by DREW ROWSOME
-

It is very rare to come across a book as extraordinary and powerful as Insomniac City. My instinct is to just type that you should get a copy as soon as possible and immerse oneself in it. I had read some of author Bill Hayes' essays and enjoyed his wry sense of humour and insights, but Insomniac City is a work of art. I read the first two-thirds of the book in one sitting, utterly absorbed, and wanting to mark every page for re-reading and to remember. The final third I mistakenly read on the subway, only to be overcome and begin quietly sobbing, not out of any maudlin manipulation or sadness but at the sheer beauty of the prose expressing such optimism and faith amidst the unbearable. It was just overwhelming and cathartic.

Hayes is hitherto best known as the partner of Oliver Sacks whose brilliant memoir On the Move covers a similar period of time. As a portrait of Sacks, and of Hayes' life with Sacks, Insomniac City is full of quirky, idiosyncratic details that illuminate love, affection and a man whose process of life and thinking was unique. That Hayes makes this so entertaining and manages to let the reader have a glimpse into the way this process works, is breathtaking. The accumulation of details and incidents reveal one relationship in all its ups and downs while extrapolating into the possibilities of all relationships.

Time and again, Hayes will recount a statement or thought uttered by Sacks that is, initially, a non-sequitur or absurd. The humorous aspect is never discounted - Sacks was brilliant but also comically eccentric - but it is also pondered, discussed and usually quietly proves to be an insight, or an alternate way of thinking, that is not only revelatory of Sacks' genius but also of everyone's potential brilliance. The love between the two is quite remarkable, as is their realization of the futility of applying the scientific method, or even words, to fathom the wonders of gay sex. Insomniac City paints a lustrous partial portrayal of just how unusual and exceptional Sacks was.

However Hayes himself is full of insights, observations and an empathetic outlook. A photographer as well as a writer, Hayes intersperses the text with his photos. Hayes writes of his encounters and the people who fascinate him enough to immortalize them. As Hayes documents his experiences as he wanders, camera at hand, he also writes a vivid love letter to New York City and its inhabitants. And he manages to capture a flavour of that magnificent city that is familiar to those who love it, and will create envy in those who have yet to experience that singular metropolis.

At first the structure of Insomniac City seems ramshackle, meandering, but the individual morsels are so enticing that the journey becomes more important than the destination. Beginning as a memoir of an inability to deal with grief, then composed of short anecdotes and journal entries (he claims to have assembled scraps of paper and thoughts where he had jotted things down as they happened or occurred to him) interspersed with more narrated descriptions of his photography subjects and his love affair/partnership with Sacks, the cumulative fragments coalesce into an astonishing climax where all the threads pull together and, in my case, resulted in actual tears of joy, wonder and release.

The clever intricacy of the structure doesn't reveal itself until the very end, and by then one has been so seduced by what has preceded, that it doesn't matter how it was achieved, it is enough to just marvel that Hayes has given such a gift of celebration. A celebration of the good and bad of life, of individuality and the joy of the extraordinary, and the extraordinariness of the ordinary. There are moments of crystal clear description that are still lingering in my thoughts - the beauty of dropped cherry tomatoes, Sacks belief that the word "but" is the most important in the English language, Sacks' reliance on lists, Hayes' theories on photography and the ownership of art - but (that marvellous word) the final effect is more poetic, a gut emotion that haunts and inspires. 

 

26

RELATED ARTICLES / ARCHIVE:
- October: Michael Rowe pens a classic horror novella with a hot twist - Nov '17
- Vampire's Kiss and Gay Vampire: vintage porn and horror with a bite - Oct '17
- The Bone Mother: David Demchuk creates a magical horrific world - Oct '17
- Life in a Haunted House: Norman Prentiss and the joy, camp and horror of B-movies - Sep '17
- Not So Good a Gay Man: Frank M Robinson's Astounding journey from sci-fi to Playboy to... - Sep '17
- The End of Eddy: it doesn't get better but we survive - Aug'17
- The Halloween Children and Odd Adventures... - Aug'17
- Three Ring Circus - Aug'17
- Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me - Jul '17
- The Flintstones Vol I: we'll have a gay old time - Jul '17
- A Mad Bent Diva - Jun '17
- Before and After Mapplethorpe - Jun '17
- The house that became the Senator Restaurant - Apr '17
- The Night Ocean - Apr '17
- Boystown: suds and studs in a literary escapade - Feb '17
- Group Hex Vol 1 - Jan '17
- Boys Are Back - Dec '16
- Christmas shopping: Retro Festive - Dec '16
- Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE - Dec '16
- Sugar, Sugar - Oct '16
- Sad Old Faggot: Sky Gilbert cockteases - Sep '16
- Tales of the Peculiar - Sep '16
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (the book) - Aug '16
- Women He's Undressed - Aug '16
- Hadrian's Rage - Jun '16
- What Belongs To You - Jun '16
- From Up River and For One Night Only - May '16
- Memory Bank - May '16
- Lust & Wonder - May '16
- Veiled Hearts - Apr '16
- Laurice - Apr '16
- Outsiders - Mar '16
- Stonewall Inn - Dec '15
- Cobra Killer - Dec '15
- Christmas Retro Festive - Dec '15
- Christmas Spice - Dec '15
- 2016 Calendars - Dec '15
- Xmass Shopping - Dec '15
- Oliver Sacks - Dec '15
- All Inclusive - Oct '15
- Patti Smith - OCt '15
- My Memoirs: Grace Jones... - Oct '15
- Symphony for the Devil - Sep '15
- Sketch at George Brown's - Aug '15
- Giddy - Aug '15
- Lost Boi - Aug '15
- Lost Boi - Jul '15
- Burlesque the book - Jun '15
- Finders Keepers - Jun '15
- Bright Eyed: Insomnia and Its Cultures - Jun '15
- The Scarlet Gospels - May '15
- Kevin Sessums - May '15
- My Body Is Yours - Apr '15
- The American People - Apr '15
- Marvellous Marcelle - Apr '15
- Homage: Jimmy Somerville - Mar '15
- A Hollywood Royalty Threesome - Mar '15
- Gerontophilia - Feb '15
- Now's the Time - Feb '15
- Odysseo - Jan '15
- Lost And Found - Aug '14
- Carsick - Jul '14
- T25 & Asylum - Jun '14
- Mad-Mous T_Shirts - Jun '14
- In Bed with Gore Vidal... - Jun '14
- Acrobaddict - Jun '14
- Dark Hard Chocolate - May '14
- Dorothy Must Die! - May '14
- Bitter Eden - Apr '14
- Everyone's a Perv and Why Men Fake It - Mar '14
- Cruising Interior. Leather Bar- Mar '14
- Hollow City - Feb '14
- The Desperates - Feb '14
- Ripley’s Aquarium - Jan '14
- Soup - Dec '13
- Hadrian’s Lover: Upside down, inside out - Dec '13
- Singing Out's Annual Holiday Concert - Nov '13
- Roommates - Nov '13
- K9-Couture - Oct '13
- Gay Men Talk - Oct '13
- An Army of Lovers Will Never Be Defeated - Sep '13
- An Annotated Prescription - Sep '13
- 501 Streetcar Food Tour - Sep '13
- Canadian Fan Expo - Aug '13
- Garage - Jul '13
- Strippers, Showgirls and Sharks. And the Tonys. - Jun '13
- Growing Vegetables in Pots - May '13
- Pandas In Toronto - May '13
- Rough Guide To Men's Health - Apr '13
- BGM: Bad Gay Movies/Bitchy Gay Men - Mar '13
- Get Started: Wine Appreciation - Feb '13
- Bloor-Yorkville Ice Fest - Jan '13
- Holiday Season In Toronto - Dec '12
- Xmass Market at Distillery - Dec '12
- Allan Karr: Chatty Man - Nov '12
- American Horror Story - Oct '12
- Worlds Deadliest Animals Africa - Sep '12
- Kathy - Aug '12
- Total Blackout - Jul '12
- From Hollywood to Dollywood - Jun '12
- The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - May '12
- Americas Next Top Model Toronto - Apr '12
- Myths and Legends - Mar '12
- K9-Couture - Feb '12
- Masa - Jan '12
- The Organic Home - Dec '11
- Ryan Edmon - Nov '11
- The Help - Oct '11
- Samsung (Android) S II Infuse 4G - Sep '11
- Gay Travel Guide - Aug '11
- Binggrae Melona Ice Bar (Popsicle) - Jul '11
- Fringe Festival - Jul '11
- Queer Of The Year - Jun '11
- InsideOut - May '11
- Gay Bachelor - Apr '11
- Wish Restaurant - Mar '11
- Plastic Underwear - Feb '11
- Black Swan - Jan '11
- Not Exsactly A Christmas Carol - Dec '10
- Gentle Man From Verona - Nov '10
- Priscilla - Oct '10
- Manline Shampoo - Sep '10