Suzy Freeman-Greene reviews 'Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and me' by Bill Hayes

Suzy Freeman-Greene reviews 'Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and me' by Bill Hayes

Insomiac City: New York, Oliver, and me

by Bill Hayes

Bloomsbury $29.99 hb, 304 pp, 9781620404935

When Oliver Sacks began seeing Bill Hayes in 2009, he had never been in a relationship. He wasn’t out as a gay man and hadn’t had sex for thirty-five years. Sacks, the celebrated author and neurologist, was almost thirty years older than Hayes, who had moved to New York from San Francisco after the sudden death of his partner. The two visited the Museum of Natural History and went for walks in the Bronx botanical garden, where Sacks could expatiate on every species of fern. When Hayes gave Sacks a long, exploratory kiss on his seventy-sixth birthday, the older man looked utterly surprised. ‘Is that what kissing is?’ he asked. ‘Or is that something you’ve invented?’

Hayes’s luminous memoir, Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and me, is full of such startling questions. For Sacks’s mind – erudite, deeply scientific, yet with a childlike sense of wonder – must now process the mysteries of love. He caresses his lover’s biceps: ‘they’re like ... beautiful tumours’. As he watches Hayes do his daily push-ups, he counts them by naming the elements: titanium, vanadium, chromium. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could dream together?’ he asks Hayes one night in bed.

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Published in May 2017, no. 391
Suzy Freeman-Greene

Suzy Freeman-Greene

Suzy Freeman-Greene is the Arts and Culture editor of The Conversation. For many years she wrote a regular opinion column for The Age, where she was also a features and arts editor and feature writer. Her essays, critical writing and fiction have been published widely in places such as Meanjin, Island, and Good Weekend.

Comments (1)

  • Leave a comment

    Dear Rebecca,

    I listened to Bill's interview at the SWF on Conversations with Richard Fidler and researched his book.

    Fantastic piece. I noticed you missed the n in insomniac, I did not lose any sleep on this almost minuscule typo.

    Keep up the terrific work.

    Best,
    Lewi
    ACU Student
    lewisbeere@gmail.com

    Sunday, 28 May 2017 12:05 posted by Australian Catholic University ACU

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