BASS 2011 – Caitlin Horrocks, “The Sleep” from Atlantic Fiction for Kindle

Al Rasmussen had wintered in Eden, we thought. We started to feel a little like suckers.

Though I never heard of her until recently, this is the third Caitlin Horrocks story I’ve read in the past few months: “Sun City” and “Steal Small” were the others, both excellent. This is the first one with a touch of goofiness. I live for goofiness.

Al Rasmussen’s had a tough time. His wife was killed by a kid driving drunk. The economy’s terrible. The town is pretty much withering. So he decides to sleep through the winter. He calls the town – the very small town of Bounty – to his house to explain what he and his kids are going to do. They think of various objections, but he’s considered everything. They’re going to hibernate through January and February. See you in March.

It works out so well (he has some wonderful dreams and misses a number of unfortunate events), other people think about doing the same thing. Over the years, more and more people join in. A lot of it is economic: far lower heating bills and food costs, no gas to buy. And if they hibernate the whole winter, no Christmas presents. But it’s more than that. Winter is not kind (presumably they’re in North Dakota or thereabouts). And the dreams… who wouldn’t rather dream than shovel snow? One chubby teen went to sleep in braces and woke slender and straight-toothed. “How easily, they thought, so much of the hard work of growing up had happened while they were asleep, while no one could make fun of them for it.”

Pretty soon most of the town is sleeping; they start sleeping in communal groups, in fact, to reduce heating costs even further. The librarian stays up to light the Christ Candle in the Lutheran Church on Christmas eve, and… well, you’ll have to read the story to see what happens to her. It’s available for Kindle (which I don’t really understand, so you’ll have to go find it yourself) and if you’re really careful and/or lucky, you might find it on GoogleBooks.

Eventually the media finds out about it, and lots of fuss gets made, which is pretty hilarious, all the more so because it’s so exactly what would happen. That’s why it’s so great a story: except for the idea that people can sleep for two or four or six months, everything in this story is perfectly logical. And, to rural people in the northern reaches, maybe not such a bad idea. In fact, according to the Contributor Notes, Horrocks got the idea of the story from an article “about historical sleep patterns, including alleged winter hibernation” and found herself curious, and a little jealous. As another Maine winter approaches, I can understand that.

It’s written in first person plural, and I’m pretty proud of myself that I realized that (thanks to reading a lot of Seth Fried stories lately that have sensitised me to it). The whole town is the “we” with various individuals in the spotlight throughout. Perfect use for it, too. The town is the protagonist, a town that is perhaps dying. Is the sleep curative, or the final descent? Are they adapting, or giving up? That seems to me the central question, and I still can’t decide. But maybe that’s because I’m dealing with some loss of my own, the economy’s terrible, and winter is coming.

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9 responses to “BASS 2011 – Caitlin Horrocks, “The Sleep” from Atlantic Fiction for Kindle

  1. The thought of hibernating through the winter is fascinating. We’ve created a culture that takes little account of the seasons, but I’d love to see shorter workdays and longer sleep times in winter, even if not an actual hibernation. Me, I love winter, I love the snow and the smell of snow. All the same this story sounds fascinating.

    • I used to love snow (I moved to New England from Florida when I was still a teenager, after all, to return to the snow of my childhood) but the older I get, the less I like it. It’s still beautiful to look at, but I’d rather not have to walk in it.

      I was thinking of you when I wrote up this story – you are, I think, the northernmost and ruralest of my online pals. And yes, I seem to recall that before electricity, agricultural people lived much more in tune with natural daylight. Which of course means working from 4am to 8pm in the summer when the crops are growing.

      It is a good story. At least I thought so.

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  5. Thanks for the clever link, I also liked your review, thank you! It’s made my creative writing course easier and cheaper :)

    • Hi hope – I love it when stories are available online. Though I still have trouble reconciling two conflicting ideas: that artists (including writers) should be able to make a living from their work, and that money shouldn’t be a barrier to enjoying art. So how about, you have to promise to buy Caitlin Horrocks’ book of short stories later on when your circumstances allow it? I can tell you at least three of them are definitely worth it.

      • After reading the story, I would definitely agree to that, I do prefer paper books over on-screen. It’s just unfortunate that they can be expensive to get hold of when on a student budget.

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