Before She Sleeps

Before She Sleeps – Bina Shah

Rating: Four Moons

Genre: Dystopian Fiction, Feminist Fiction, light Sci-Fi / Speculative elements

Disclaimer: I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Characters: 4

Setting: 4

Story:4

What I liked best: the emotionally depth of the characters

What I liked least: shifting POV narrative + time jumps

Recommended: Y

The book is marketed as dystopian feminist literature. But as a person not in possession of a uterus; my qualifications as a feminist are zilch. So allow me to rate it from the opposite gender perspective.

Bina has created a world deep and immersive with characters you deeply empathize with. But what struck me, as a man, is how accurately she describes the psyche of her male characters. She posses an understanding that, to be frank, I would not expect from a female. And in truth, I’m sure there are some men in the world who don’t understand men as well as she does.

Will this book join then ranks of great feminist dystopian fiction? I don’t know. But I would say it deserves a more broad audience than to be niched into that category.

Twitter: @BinaShah

https://www.amazon.com/Before-She-Sleeps-Bina-Shah/dp/1883285763/

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The Festival

“It’s called the Black Bear Festival,” she said looking at the flyer we picked up at the state line.

Mmm-hmm,” I replied in a disinterested grunt as we got back into the car after our lunch, gas and piss stop.

“C’mon! It’ll be fun!” She said.

“Unless the bear is wrestling a man I don’t see any fun in it at all.”

“Well, how do you know there won’t be if we don’t go?” She asked, undefeated. My doctor had prescribed this trip. She said a month on the road would reduce my stress and be good for my heart. But after two weeks of hotels, fast food, and spending every moment without respite with the woman I chose to annoy me for the rest of my life- I believed that the trip was having the opposite affect. Presently she wanted me to drive an hour out of the way, to a small town for its annual Fall Festival. I knew that this festival, like all festivals, would have local ‘artisans’ hawking their wares at me. Like as not that is what caught my wife’s attention. I was already starting to feel a pain in my wallet.

But a man doesn’t stay married for as long as I have without learning a simple, universal law: happy wife, happy life. “If that’s what you want to do, we’ll do it.”

“Oh, no- this trip is for your health. We’ll do what you want.” She said in a deadpan manner. Yup, she wants to go and now she will play the martyr if we don’t.

There’s another law I’ve learned after this many years of marriage, perhaps not as universal: I never could tell her ‘no’.

The Continental: On The Trail, part II

The steam powered pipe organ started in on camp town races for at least the dozenth time since I had taken a seat and ordered a bottle of mezcal. It was the only song the machine seemed to know. The organ’s attendant was a young man. Probably white from the way he spoke, but it was hard to say with all the coal dust on his face and hands. As he stoked the fires of the mechanical musician he insisted to all who would listen that the Maestro was a genius.

FitzClarence, alias Hobbes, was not supposed to leave me alone. But after I had led him here to the seedier side of town and introduced him at a ballroom court where New World courtesans sought his favour… well, let’s just say he was distracted.

I had spent the past few weeks measuring the mans character and stamina. So when he escorted two young ladies, one brown and the other black, upstairs I knew that I had less than an hour to make contact.

I drained the last bit of mezcal from my glass. Then I excused myself from the small group of young men and women who were vying for my favour; leaving what was left of the bottle for them to share or argue over. I made my way to the rear of the establishment where the stables were. Not because I needed my horse, but because stable hands were known to take coins and answer questions.

Living in the shadows and the alleys, but serving the gentry gave stablehands a foot in two worlds. More often than not, they were a first point of contact or a go-between for those two worlds. A young man, large and fit enough to dissuade a thief, met me in the stable yard- barring my way to the doors.

“¿Bueños tardes, que necesitas?” I pretended not to understand him. It was clear from his dialect and usage that Spanish wasn’t his native tongue anyway.

“Inglés.” I said with a smile as I held up a quarter of a silver round.

The young man smiled without thought of hiding his greed. “Yesir, I’se know English,” he said reaching for the silver. It wasn’t the vernacular of a schooled gentlemen, but it would suffice.

I pulled the silver away, “I’m looking for a man.”

“I’se don’t do that to men, plenty of them type inside.” He said, clearly offended and clearly missing the point. “Not that I blame you, who’d wanna’ little sissy boy when they could’ve a strong man. But I ain’ts no sodomite. Not even for coin.” He seemed to be trying to convince himself as much as he was me. But likely this was his con. People don’t survive out here without a side hustle.

“I’m not looking for a man for that.” I stopped, letting the words settle between us. “The silver is for information.”

“Im’ma listenin’.”

“Do you know the muffin man?” I asked.

“Is that a joke?”

“Knock knock.”

“Look, ya fuckin’ nutter- I ain’t got time to play games. Go back inside if you wanna play games.” He said turning away from me and went back into the stables.

Well, that was a bust– I thought as I looked around me. In front of me was a locked stable with an unamused attendant. To my left, a dark alley no doubt full of cut throats. To my right, a place where a man could find cunny and chlamydia sold together- the establishment made no pretense at being a clean, reputable business. And behind me was the ballroom where FitzClarence could just as easily be, or not be, finished with his rogering and looking for me. With a sigh, I turned to return to the ballroom.

Behind me I heard the distinct click of Augustus Colt’s patent being prepared for use.

“He lives on Drury Lane.”

PB&J

What is this? He wrinkled his nose as he smelled the brown paste. It did not smell bad, or unappetizing, but it was not his normal sustenance.

“Try it! You will like it; I promise.” His housekeeper had a strange maternal quality about her when it came to caring for him. As long as he had lived with the woman he could never understand it.

He glared at her as he took another whiff of the paste. He was suspicious in a ‘once bitten, twice shy’ sort of way. One time she had made him a tuna casserole… and he woke up a day later in a doctors office missing body parts. You eat it!

Look, it’s good!” She said having understood him. She dipped another spoon into the bowl that held the paste and ate it in an exaggerated manner. “Mmmm! See, it’s good! Now you try it!”

He took another whiff, nothing seemed amiss. It had an Earthy smell, something natural about it. His gut rumbled slightly, and an internal argument ensued between his brain and his stomach.

The stomach won as he began to attack the spoon with his maw. On the edge of his consciousness he could hear his housekeeper making encouraging comments to him as she held the spoon for him. But the comments did not matter. The only thing that mattered was this heavenly brown paste that she had withheld from him for all their years together. He was angry with her for withholding this, and his secondary thoughts were obsessed with trying to figure out how to get more of it.

He was so busy with his eating, his rage, and his plotting that he did not even know it happened. He was all the way to the bottom of the spoon before he felt the pill slide down his gullet. He did not even taste it. And as he slipped into a drug induced sleep he had one thought. So this is peanut butter.

The Continental: On The Trail

Grant scritched his nose. “We’ll start down there.” He made a vague gesture with his head and the brim of his hat to the town of Barranca Grande in the valley below them. The reigns hung slack in his hand after weeks on horseback and the promise the town offered of a bed, bath and brothel made Grant a happy man. The sun was setting over the next ridge and the town, an overgrown mining camp that had sprouted out of the ground, already laid in a dusky twilight.

“Is that the last place you saw it?” His companion asked.

“That the last place ya seen it,” Grant corrected. “Words matter here, what you say, how you say it can be the difference of life and death, Hobbes.”

His companion looked at him with a dangerous glare. He hated the name Hobbes.

“See, that look.” Grants dialect and cadence of speaking shifted dramatically. “That’s what Im’ma tryin’ to tell ya. Ya can’ look at people like that on the frontier an’ not get your head turned to a canoe.”

“You should be worried about your head, Grant.”

“For the love of God! Call me Castille. Ulysses Grant is not a person you want to be associated with out here, Hobbes.”

With that Grant nudged the flanks of his horse with his spurless heels. He did not wait to see if his companion did the same. He was indifferent to whether the man would choose follow him into the valley.

Despite himself, Grant smiled when he heard Hobbes click his tongue at the roan gelding he rode followed by the rhythm of hooves. Grant realized then that he wasn’t indifferent after all and that fate would soon deliver them to one end or another. He knew that like as not, they would both be dead by sunrise.