256 pages, $30 (hardcover)
Release date September 22, 2015
Nino Ricci’s Sleep follows one insomniac’s downward spiral into adultery, violence, and madness.
On the surface, David Pace’s life seems perfect. Coasting on the notoriety from his bestselling book on the fall of the Roman Empire (fittingly titled Masculine History), he teaches at a Toronto university, on track towards the academic’s dream of untouchable tenure. He also has a beautiful, intellectual wife and sweet-hearted young son.
Behind the shutters of his remodelled dream home, however, everything is a battlefield for the protagonist of Nino Ricci’s Sleep – love, academia, sex, and family. Having long suffered from sleep deprivation, Pace experiences occasional narcoleptic fissures in time, sleepwalking moments gone from his memory. This sleepwalking state isn’t limited to his physical self, either. Trapped in a tense, competitive marriage, and unable to break through his crippling writer’s block to finish the follow-up to his monolithic first work, Pace dives head-first towards drug-addled oblivion.
Following an indeterminate diagnosis, Pace’s initial prescriptions of Ritalin and Prozac (with a Viagra chaser to counter the libido-killing properties of the latter) give way to a reliance on sodium oxybate – known in club and drug-taking circles as GHB. The discovery of a Mussolini-era pistol – a twisted family heirloom that later finds its way into the hands of his young son – awakens Pace’s fascination with firearms and a taste for violence that soon runs rampant.
Despite Pace’s once-celebrated intellect, Sleep chronicles a life overturned by academic disgrace, insatiable adultery and, with no bridge left unburned, a graphic and frantic finale in the war-torn Middle East. As Ricci eloquently puts it, there are two halves to each brain: one dominates loudly, and the other is usually ignored. In the case of David Pace, these opposing halves leave a man entirely at war not only with those around him, but with himself.
Discussion Points for Your Book Club
Delve deeper with these five Book Club Discussion points for Nino Ricci’s Sleep:
1. Sleep obviously provides physical rest, but what role does it play in emotional and spiritual rejuvenation? To what extent can Pace blame his problems on his insomnia?
2. We’re given insight into Pace’s teaching methods through a scene in which he shocks his students with a comparison between Rome’s system of slavery and America’s own dark history. What do you think of his approach? Is it fair to put students on the spot so abruptly, and what does that achieve?
3. Following a move to the U.S., Ricci outlines how easy it is to purchase a firearm with little more than a quick background check. Does he make a case for one country’s system versus the other? How are guns perceived differently in Canadian and American culture?
4. After a father-son visit to the firing range, Pace imagines bonding with his son through a shared love of guns. On a flirtatious night out with a new colleague, he introduces her to the exhilarating effects of GHB. Why are so many of Pace’s relationships built on faulty foundations? Does he manage a true connection with anyone?
5. By Sleep’s third act, Pace is working as a journalist in an unnamed city in the Middle East (the mention of lapsed Soviet involvement in the area suggests Afghanistan). He is chasing an interview with a local warlord, but instead encounters a group of child soldiers armed to the teeth. What insights can we draw from the fascination with weapons shared by several characters throughout the book?