So Many Ways to Sleep Badly
"Sycamore paints as bleak a picture of the world as she does illustrate its fleeting moments of beauty. It's a shame that more bookstores don’t carry titles like these in their slowly rotting fiction departments." — Indie Street
"This Lambda Literary Award finalist offers up a thrilling socio-politically transgressive, gender-bending queer novel about life in San Francisco. From bad sex to vegan restaurants to NPR and tweaking buddies, Sycamore's frenetic pace and unabashed solipsism is most refreshing."
"Sycamore's second novel (his first, 2003’s Pulling Taffy, was nominated for a Lambda Award) is a high-speed, stream-of-consciousness romp that could easily have been subtitled 'looking for love in all the wrong places.' In 27 chapters, a flamboyantly queer sex worker named Tyler, aka Mattilda to his friends and anarcho-feminist comrades, takes readers into a world where well-heeled men rent ritzy penthouse suites while others grapple with AIDS, cockroach- and rat-infested apartments, depression, incest, and, of course, insomnia. By turns raunchy and tender, Sycamore’s wryly neurotic text is often funny, and his optimism that a better world is possible makes the book compelling. Subtly political, he posits friendship, camaraderie, and activism as ways to defy the morass of Republicrat rule. What’s more, in quips worthy of Stephen Colbert, he slams San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, the Iraq War, and the queer rush to the altar celebrated by mainstream liberals. Sexually explicit, the book is recommended for adult fiction collections."
"Getting lost is one of the pleasures that awaits the reader of So Many Ways to Sleep Badly, the exuberant first novel by San Francisco writer Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Start with an impending sexual act between a first-person narrator and a man whose teeth are chattering and then—whoosh!—without transition, the narrator is describing how the carpet smells in yoga class. But getting lost is only fun when you don't stay lost, and So Many Ways to Sleep Badly is a book that teaches us how to read it. . . . The alchemy of this novel uses that mental splitting to illustrate for readers how one subject can be male and female, named and anonymous, inside and outside. . . . [B]ecause the author rejects causality, readers longing for a story have to look elsewhere. By the end of the book, nothing much has changed for Mattilda. She still sleeps badly and still kind of likes being a whore, though she’s not sure why. Maybe it’s the sex? Maybe it’s San Francisco: 'The best thing about my 4 a.m. walk down Polk Street is the Latina trannygirls on Post, singing songs in Spanish, practicing dance moves, and hugging each other in the rain.' Is that somebody leaving their heart in San Francisco?"
". . .Sycamore's sensibility [is] quick, playful, disarming, literary, hip, deadly serious, and decidedly provocative. . . . a near-surrealistic montage of contemporary queer life in San Francisco and, really, all of American culture. . . . It's tempting to see Sycamore as a queer Samuel Beckett crossed with Woody Allen — both of them chart the pointlessness of making sense in a senseless world, though Allen has better jokes then Beckett. And though Sycamore does resonate with both, his world view here is more dire. . . . So Many Ways to Sleep Badly's stream-of-consciousness plot works — it's Ulysses, but on too much crystal and a hard prick up its ass and set in San Francisco not Dublin — but it makes us work as well. Sycamore is not an immediately accessible writer (although he's compulsively readable) but the intellectual and emotional work here is well worth it."
"Sycamore. . . picks up Ginsberg's torch with this blazing autobiographical work. In this book, he struggles with the stunning economic gap between the Bay Area’s haves and have-nots, as well as the seductive yet depersonalizing impact of the Internet on gay life and the scourge of drugs upon those who have difficulty coping with either of these forces. Sycamore doesn’t whine. He transforms his troubles into a stream of sexy, funny, fluorescent prose that sashays a fine line between surrealism and self-indulgence. . . "
"To read So Many Ways to Sleep Badly is to be plunged, five senses searing, into the frenetic, poetic prose universe of Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's unique design. No doubt, to share this world is both a privilege and a punishment, faced as we are with the blow-by-blow accounts of the highs and lows of the human body and psyche. The crippling emotional pain of a past tainted by incest is never far from the tremulous outer edges of Sycamore's mind as she spars daily with fibromyalgia and turns tricks for rent money. 'Heavy' does not begin to cover it. And yet the book is sprinkled with welcome moments of levity that balloon unexpectedly, and shrink just as quickly. Like the most restless of sleepless nights, this book is rife with visions and manic streams of consciousness, the narrative a pulsing throb of a heartbeat on the ever-thinner line between awake and asleep, dream and nightmare."
"The novel of a tortured, wits-ended, endlessly chattering tranny hooker in San Francisco has all the unreliable, but undeniable energy of a line of coke that curls into a vicious circle. The narrator (also called Mattilda, hinting at a Proustian reality transformed into fiction) takes us on a hallucinatory tour through a night world in a city that, like our heroine, never sleeps, never stops fucking, never stops kvetching. Her loves—sea lions, sex (free or paid for), painful yoga, her equally ditzy cutting edge friends, crazy costumes— runs together here with her hates—bad veggie food, chronic aches and rashes, lousy sex that's still better than being alone. The narration is brilliantly brought off, part Kafka, part Last Exit to Brooklyn, surreal, hilariously sharp and deeply despairing. If she seems to have not a whore's heart of gold, but a head stuffed with self-hating, hopeless romanticism, it's still been a fascinating ride through one of hell's livelier circles—even when it comes to feel like the same Groundhog Day that never ends."
—Harry Eugene Baldwin
"Bitch contributor Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore . . . set out to create a novel that evades linear compositions. In So Many Ways to Sleep Badly, she accomplishes that. . . The novel is already a seemingly endless series of vignettes, brief watercolors blending together tales of a life of sexual pleasure, emotional pain, romantic hope, and social humor as narrated by a gender-transcending queer sex worker living in San Francisco's Tenderloin. . . The narrator's gender fluidity is a realistic portrait that is rarely seen in mainstream media's portrayals of queer communities, and the life of a smart, funny, social, gender-transcendent sex worker and her daily world of small glories and tribulations is equally absent in the media's fisheye lens. This poetic novel is best read as an encyclopedia of clever amusements—open up to any given page and there will be a sarcastic crack, juicy sex scene, or moment of transcendence."
"[So Many Ways to Sleep Badly] is a book about a queer person and her queer friends all of whom inhabit the margins of the gay community. It is about the ways they attempt to care for themselves and each other, as well as the ways that they fail to do so. It is about the way they find a bewildering mix of rejection, disappointment, and occasional affirmation in the larger gay community.
It is about the constant possibilities the world holds for the narrator: situations that may lead to genuine human connections or maybe just desolation. It is about balancing the vulnerability involved in staying open to these connections with the need to take care of one's self. All of this is depicted in language that is sometimes expansive and sometimes condensed down to a bareness that resembles poetry with occasional glimpses at a fierce wit. . . ."
"So Many Ways To Sleep Badly is a memoir (Autobio? Loveletter? Suicide note?) to the sub-gay scene in San Francisco over a period of three years from 2001, when America went on the 'offensive'. When I say 'sub-gay' I'm lumping in several non-Will And Grace style homo categories, such as subversive queer punks that protest the homogeneity of Gay Pride Parades, stinky closeted Craigslist trolls, gender flipping transsexuals and sex trade workers with fibromyalgia.
Our hero(ine), our star, our beauty queen, the gender/race-fucking Mattilda, weaves a typical year in her(his) life through a barrage of stream of consciousness style writing that is so resonate, so vivid and yet at moments very ethereal, that there is no question that the cock (s)he is sucking does smell like disappointment and unfulfillable desire. SMWtSB is written with a delicate hand that within a sentence, will backhand you into a miserable sex hookup. So those with a weak constitution/morals system should be prepared to be appalled at her/his behaviour. Those who are more freer with their sensibilities will find a good laugh per page (and may identify with some situations)."
Bay Area Reporter
"Once a toe is dipped into [Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's] Burroughs-like stream-of-consciousness writing, it's difficult to turn your back on such a wet and wooly ride through the streets of our beloved SF. Sycamore's protagonist (herself, possibly?) lives in an apartment festering with roaches, hangs with some eccentric friends (including a hot BF/fuck buddy named Jeremy), and turns tricks for $150 an hour from a newspaper ad. The resulting carnal carnival is effortlessly provocative . . . . The good thing is that it surprisingly doesn't get tired, and if you are part of the SF gay scene, it will all become relative. Her protagonist's hustling adventures are humorous and have an authentic ring to them. . . . Sycamore and her aggressive material are much alike; there seems to be a lot more here than meets the eye."
"The unnamed narrator of this fabulously flamboyant novel turns tricks for money and, on client-free occasions, cruises adult movie theaters or the Internet for blowjobs, in search of a human connection as much as for sexual release. He frets about rats in the ceiling and roaches on the walls, obsesses over how his hair looks before leaving the apartment, and camps it up for queer street protests – with makeup a must. He's carrying on a troubled romance with a beautiful boyfriend, and coping with chronic pain rooted most probably in childhood abuse. Such is the life of an under-30 gender-queer activist in San Francisco, the city that quite gloriously never really grows up. Sycamore—whose spirited real-life blog echoes many of the book's witty, bitchy, and philosophically trenchant moments—captures the committed insouciance of his tale's quirky characters with a refreshingly non-traditional prose style. There isn't much narrative linearity here—nothing really resembling a beginning, a middle, or an end—but Sycamore's luscious prowess with prose—coupled with an easy gender fluidity—is evocative and provocative and literarily seductive."
"When I read the first chapter of the newest novel by San Francisco poster child for surviving-and-thriving gender/queer punks everywhere, I felt like I was being yelled at by an excited, manic friend who was pacing around a roach-infested kitchen, occasionally breaking into a runway walk while wearing hot pants made of burnt rainbow flags.
By the third chapter, the narrator was curled up next to me, near fetal, talking through a panic attack, going from non sequitur to non sequitur. Wanna hear a funny anecdote from yoga class? A cocksucking-in-the-park story interrupted by a brief blip of illness-related neurosis? A funny trick? A bit of crush-on-new-boy? Here's an incest flashback, an allergic reaction and finally, perhaps, a vegan snack. All without a paragraph switch.
The narrator speaks conversationally, with no thought to the conventions of description, plot or character development. People are named in a paragraph, yet we don’t know what they look like, what they’re about; we only see who they are in relation to the narrator.
While the book often appears to be so loose it’s in danger of losing us in the noise, it’s also deceptively layered, building story over story. Pulling off such a joyous and raw cacophony requires a skilled hand.
So Many Ways To Sleep Badly is an original, visceral reading experience. I give it extra points for including a sex-worker theme that avoids all the overdone stereotypes.
Though it certainly lacks your typical story arc, I recommend opening your mind to it. The rapid-fire, honest glimpse into the post-gay ruins of San Francisco will likely break even the toughest punk heart."
The L Magazine
"Sycamore's second novel. . . is a high-speed, stream-of consciousness romp that could easily have been subtitled 'Looking for love in all the wrong places'. . . By turns raunchy and tender, Sycamore is often wryly neurotic and allows an undercurrent of longing to pervade his text. . . Sycamore’s frenetic pacing and jarring prose — indeed, his optimism that a better world is possible — makes the book a compelling read. Subtly political, it posits friendship, camaraderie and activism as ways to defy the morass of Republicrat rule. What’s more, in quips worthy of Jon Stewart, Sycamore slams NAFTA, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Iraq War. So Many Ways to Sleep Badly is sometimes shocking and sometimes sweet, a perfect antidote to the election year posturing of folks we can only assume sleep as soundly as babes."
—Eleanor J. Bader
"Mattilda is a San Francisco institution. . . Hers is a world where respectability is never thought about, where shopping often means shoplifting and gender is a personal choice, not a life sentence. . . . .A sex worker by trade, Mattilda has a disorder of some sort that forces her to sleep erratically. The novel is written in a style similar to her sleep patterns. . . . .Sometimes Mattilda's writing is like a slide projector on rapid automatic. She flips from one moment to another, while still maintaining a running narrative. . . So Many Ways is an engaging self examination. . . it's refreshing to know that some of us are still living truly outlaw queer lives at a time when Will and Grace has made us boring to the core."
"So Many Ways to Sleep Badly, the second novel by radical queer activist and outrageously snappy dresser Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore . . . offers up the events of Sycamore's own life in a frantically paced stream of consciousness narrative. Her writing swings between poetic and horrifying as her ambiguously gendered central character lies awake in San Francisco's rundown Tenderloin district, disturbed by roaches and rats and the real or imagined pigeons in the ceiling of her apartment, before taking off to service a variety of seedy men in the city's most expensive hotels . . . . Through the central characters' sexual adventures and fluctuating gender pronouns we glimpse what it means to be radical and queer through clashes between police and activists, yoga and stories the sex industry."
"The second novel from Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, published by City Lights, is a challenging, messy account of a life in San Francisco, written in an unflinching (and at times raunchy) stream of consciousness that recalls William Burroughs. . . it's a good read for those interested in exploring the underbelly of our rapidly gentrifying town through the eyes of our gender-bending queer hero(ine)."
"...a gender-bending novel...unearths subjects still relatively untouched in popular culture... you're not going to be reading anything similar elsewhere."