Pros: Fascinating experiment
Cons: The first two-thirds of the book
Rating: 3 out of 5
Jeremy Bates brings us a horror/psychological thriller novel, The Sleep Experiment. UC Berkeley Chair of Psychology Roy Wallis has a three-week sleep experiment planned. He’s hired two of his students, Penny Park and Guru Rampal, to help. Two Australian backpackers, Sharon Nash and Chad Carter, will spend three weeks in a lab, where they’ll be exposed to a stimulant gas that won’t allow them to get any sleep. The experiment is taking place in the basement of a soon-to-be-destroyed building, where no one goes, so there’s no one else to see what happens. According to what Wallis tells his class, he hopes to prove that sleep is an unnecessary “habit” leftover from days when it wasn’t safe for people to go out at night and they needed a way to get past the boredom. But when Sharon and Chad start acting strangely, he doesn’t seem at all surprised.
Roy is described as a devilishly handsome, well-dressed, devastatingly wealthy man (he inherited). Every woman seems to want him, even women half his age. Even Guru, who seems to be straight, fawns over his handsomeness and sense of style and comes to him for fashion advice. Penny is “in total freaking love” with him. He has an on-again off-again thing with Brandy, a former student, who despite his dumping her still keeps coming back to him. He also has something going with Brook, a waitress at a café that he goes to. She forgives him after catching him with a half-naked Brandy in his penthouse. She even gaslights herself into believing that it was her own fault for disturbing his privacy by showing up unannounced at his penthouse, even though the two of them had a date planned for that night. Before Roy asked Brook out, he gave off some kind of vibe such that she believed “she was his waitress, his servant, and nothing more.” Is this supposed to be attractive or something? Because, gross. One of the things Roy seems to love about Brook is that she has no ambition. Which, it’s fine for someone to not have ambition, but men who prefer for their women to not have any ambition are skeevy.
There seems to be almost nothing to any of the characters outside of the experiments except their sex lives. All we learn about Penny is her sexual exploits and a bizarre psychological theory for why she likes older men (daddy issues, naturally). We have a weird side-jaunt into Brook’s previous boyfriend for some reason. Sharon and Chad’s history seems to boil down to his having the hots for her, her holding him at arm’s length, and then them making out.
I’m not really sure why Wallis hired Penny and Guru if he was just going to have to either tell them the experiment was over or whatever as soon as it became obvious that Sharon and Chad were not going to be okay. He obviously expected this, and was okay with the idea that he’d be the only observer for the latter part of the experiment, so why risk bringing two other people into the whole thing in the first place? It seems like a rather large blunder on the part of someone who is depicted as being intelligent.
By this point you may be wondering why I gave this a three out of five instead of something less. It’s because roughly 2/3 of the way through the book, it takes a dramatic turn for the better. One single event turns Wallis into a much more interesting character who no longer reads like an authorial self-insert, and from there everything spirals into craziness. I still wish the author had not made every female character fall in love or lust with the professor, particularly with all of them being so much younger than him. It just wasn’t necessary, and was actually kind of disgusting.
Content note for a lot of gore, because things eventually do get bloody. I wish the timeline had been moved up a little. Instead of hearing about Brook’s ex-boyfriend, I would rather that the bloody ending had been longer and more involved, with a bit more information from a certain source (sorry; I’m trying to be vague and avoid spoilers).
This isn’t a great book, but it’s ultimately creative in its premise, and it winds up well.