Sleepless Nights is or is not a memoir—it is written in first person about a woman named Elizabeth Hardwick whose life follows the contours of the author’s, but it is very much not the author. Still, this woman is so fully-formed that we, as readers, cannot imagine she doesn’t exist. She is mean and distant and harsh. She likes birds and loves her mother. She is from the country where there is space and intimacy. She misses the closeness of people, the distance of things. She lives in the city now and watches humans move beneath her window. She has a twin bed and men who call upon her. She is lonely and comforted by that loneliness. Hardwick was 50 when she wrote this, but the book is about a young girl wandering the streets in a trench coat and heels. I told you already, none of this matters.
When we expect the book to be intimate, Hardwick pushes us further away—keeps us at a distance. But Sleepless Nights is, somehow, the most realistic book ever written. This book, like real life, lacks transitions. It tells the story of a woman through the stories of other people. One sentence you are in a club watching Billie Holliday sing and then immediately you are home in bed thinking about love. This book does not apologize for such lack, but instead Sleepless Nights thrives in the in-between—the place where words are everything and nothing, where as soon as you begin to trust the narrator, she abandons you in a city full of billboards.