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.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

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.

    ACU Student

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

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.