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Literature / Insomnia

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It's a long walk back to Eden, sweetheart, so don't sweat the small stuff.

Insomnia is a novel written by Stephen King.

Ralph Roberts, an elderly widower, is suffering from insomnia. Soon he begins to see things that are invisible to others—auras that represent people's life forces and little bald men who are present at the homes of the dying. Soon Ralph discovers that the fate of the universe is resting on his shoulders.

No relation to the film of the same name.

This story provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Human
    • The Little Bald Doctors at first look like exactly that: Tiny bald men that give off a sort of medical atmosphere. It becomes clear, however, that they are not human. Buuuut then the line get surprisingly blurry: They don't seem to be naturally immortal but rather feed off tiny amounts of aura humans give off and it seems like a human could do the same thing if they really wanted to. The only thing that makes them definitely not human seems to be their jobs, their apparent inability to be killed by mortals and the inability to lie.
    • One of Ralph and Lois' even older neighbors is seemingly a senile old man who wanders about in a perpetually happy daze. He turns out to be in on all this supernatural stuff and when you can see his aura, it's not just bright and powerful, it's a straight, up rainbow contrasting everyone else just being a single color. The two of them are in awe, but what this means is never clarified.
  • Ax-Crazy: Atropos and Ed Deepneau.
  • Balancing Death's Books: Thanks to Atropos, Natalie Deepneau is set to be killed by a car. Ralph bargains with Clotho and Lachesis to exchange his life for hers.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Patrick Danville is destined to die saving two people, one of whom is very important.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: It's very easy to think of Atropos as a foul-mouthed, tantrummy brat. It's also fatal.
  • Big Bad: The Crimson King
  • Bitter Sweet Ending: Ralph thwarts the Crimson King's plans and later ends up sacrificing his life to save a little girl.
  • By the Eyes of the Blind: Insomnia allows Ralph to see the aura of people as well as higher powers that influence the world.
  • The Cameo: Mike Hanlon from IT has a small scene at the library. Ralph also drives by the giant statue of Paul Bunyan that came alive in IT.
    • Roland the Gunslinger appears for the space of one sentence, rolling over in his sleep as the events of this novel ripple through reality.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos are incapable of lying; they can, however avoid telling the truth. This means that when Ralph manages to catch Atropos, anything Atropos agrees to do to escape torture is binding. Ralph can't actually kill him, but he does mutilate the little monster until he finally agrees to Ralph's demands.
  • Cassandra Truth: Near the end of the novel, one very clever but rather strict old woman is interviewed about Ralph's Heroic Sacrifice. She tells a reporter exactly what she saw and even told him he'd absolutely misquote her by thinking she was speaking metaphorically. She makes it very, very clear that she saw Ralph appear out of thin air to get Natalie out of the way of the truck but no matter what she says, the reporter doesn't seem to even consider the idea that she meant exactly what she said. The article runs the next morning with her misquoted and she isn't the least bit surprised.
  • Catchphrase: "Hey hey, Susan Day! How many kids did you kill today?"
  • Canon Discontinuity: In the final Dark Tower novel, it's revealed that Insomnia is not meant to be taken at face value. For example, while Patrick Danville appears and plays an important role, he does not die saving two people—something that was foretold that he would do.
    • There is a monument in the park to the "Loser's Club" from IT which, by the canon in that novel, shouldn't exist, since it was emphasized the characters forgot their experiences once the monster was finally defeated.
  • Canon Welding: Quite a bit. In addition to taking place in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, and featuring assorted references to IT, the book also ties into The Dark Tower and introduces two major characters, the Crimson King and Patrick Danville. Ralph also makes a small appearance in Bag of Bones that takes place before his death. There's even a passing reference to Pet Sematary.
  • Cool Old Guy: Ralph.
  • Cosmic Horror Story
  • Creepy Souvenir: Atropos takes an item as a souvenir from the people he 'kills'. He has an entire warehouse's worth of them, filled with random trinkets from centuries of killing.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Atropos throws screaming tantrums, throws out constant Cluster F Bombs and lives like a feral child. Then he has a moment of Tranquil Fury, the mask falls away, and you realize just how old, powerful, and evilly wise he is. It's at that point we remember that he's effectively a rabid Grim Reaper.
  • Diving Save: The main character pulls the Heroic Sacrifice version at the climax, to save his friend's daughter from a speeding car.
  • Domestic Abuse: Ed Deepneau beats his wife, becoming increasingly violent under Atropos' influence. She leaves him early in the novel.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: Clotho and Lachesis treat the dying with respect; Ralph becomes convinced that they're not evil after he sees them ending the life of one of his old friends. Atropos, on the other hand...
  • Door Stopper
  • Dr. Jerk: Dr. Litchfield is less arrogant than most versions of this, but is still rivals some of Atropos's pawns for unpleasantness.
  • The Dragon: Atropos to the Crimson King.
  • Ear Ache: Ralph cuts off one of Atropos' ears.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Crimson King. In his only appearance, he takes multiple forms - Ralph's mother, a monstrous catfish, and a handsome red man with a Christ-like appearance - but in all of them it is made clear that something is very wrong. He is a creature from the unimaginable heights of the Dark Tower, the Higher Random floors so high up that Death itself does not exist there, and he claims that Ralph couldn't bear the sight of him without his "disguises." When the Crimson King flees back up the Dark Tower, he takes a form so alien that Ralph can't compare it to anything on Earth and heads through a portal to a realm full of maddening lights (implied to be the deadlights from IT).
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Ed Deepneau still loves his family to the point when he plans to crash his plane into the civic center he has a photo of them on the cockpit so they can be the last thing that he sees before he dies.
  • The Gods Must Be Lazy: One of the Bald Men says that "Purpose" prefers to have people deal with the problems instead of taking care of them itself.
  • The Grim Reaper: The Little Bald Doctors.
  • Guys Smash, Girls Shoot: An interesting variation. Ralph and Lois both learn how they can weaponize their aura's against Atropos. To achieve this, Ralph makes a hand movement identical to a karate chop, while Lois makes a finger gun and pretends to shoot.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: A large chunk of the novel deals with Ralph dealing with his insomnia and serves as a rumination on age and death. The cosmic plot only picks up a couple of hundred pages into the book.
  • The Heavy: The Crimson King might be the Big Bad, but Atropos does almost all of the work.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Ralph makes a deal with Clotho and Lachesis to die in the place of Natalie Deapneau.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Helen Deapnau and Gretchen Tilbury. Gretchen is implied to be a lesbian and Helen comes out as one in the epilogue but by this time, Gretchen has been murdered. Several people imply that their relationship is more than friendship, but it's never made clear.
  • Hypocrisy: One of Ed Deepnau's anti-abortion terrorists murders a pregnant woman. This drives Ralph into a near-homicidal rage.
  • The Insomniac: Ralph, which allows him to see people's auras and supernatural entities. Lois is revealed to be one too.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Atropos repeatedly sings a skipping song, while skipping with a skipping rope that he stole:
    Three, six, nine
    The goose drank wine...
  • Karma Houdini: To an extent. Atropos is given a lot of messy injuries by Ralph, but none are fatal or even super debilitating. While he fails to kill Natalie like he intended, the little murderer is still free to do as he pleases.
  • Mythology Gag: Several. Notably, Ralph finds a pair of shoes belonging to Gage Creed, little boy who died from Pet Sematary.
  • Nice Guy: Ed Deepneau, of all people, apparently used to be a kind family man of upstanding character before Atropos drove him mad.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Lois always refers to her late husband, Paul Chasse as "Mr. Chasse", except when she finds out that Ralph plans to sacrifice himself to save Natalie. She then says: "I lost Paul, I can't lose you, too!"
    • Atropos is always dangerous, but it's when he calms down and stops with the screaming and swearing that you're reminded that he's not a feral child, but just as wise and powerful as the other little bald doctors in his way.
  • Painting the Medium: Certain characters' telepathic thoughts fade out and back in, signifying that something is wrong with them. The text of their thoughts fades into illegibility, then becomes clear and readable again.
  • Police Are Useless: Adverted, when Detectives Nell and Lydecker arrive to answer the domestic abuse complaint against Ed Deapnu they initially seem to be taking Ed's side and letting him off the hook, but it's quickly revealed that they were just lulling Ed into a false sense of security, and they do arrest him and remain allies of Ralph and the others for the rest of the book.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Atropos is a mean-spirited, murderous little shithead who throws infantile, foul-mouthed tantrums whenever things don't go his way, and is also a pretty much a rogue Grim Reaper who kills randomly for pleasure or spite.
  • Rape and Switch: Hinted at with Helen Deepneau, although "abuse and switch" might be more accurate based on the evidence at hand; either way, she's openly if discreetly identifying as a lesbian by the end of the book, which the narrator puts down to her abusive marriage to Ed.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Atropos can't do anything significant to Ralph, so he kills Bill as a warning. He also makes it clear he intends to kill Natalie Deepneau later, but this time Ralph is on to his methods and makes a deal with Clotho and Lachesis to trade his life for hers, which implicitly puts her out of Atropos' reach forever.
  • Save This Person, Save the World: The story culminates in the main characters racing against time to save the life of a young boy named Patrick... Whom they've never met, never actually meet during the novel, and whose importance is never quite fully explained in the book either. All they know is that the fate of the universe depends on them saving this one boy. The boy later grows up and becomes a pivotal character in The Dark Tower.
  • Shout-Out: Bill McGovern (jokingly) says that Lois "walks in beauty, like the night", referencing a famous poem by Lord Byron.
  • Second Love: Ralph and Lois for each other; they were both Happily Married and widowed.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Atropos swears constantly and launches into vicious foulmouthed tirades whenever he's mad...which is most of the time.
  • Soul-Cutting Blade: The Little Bald Doctors' scissors. For Clotho and Lachesis, at least; Atropos uses a rusty scalpel.
  • Straight Gay: Ralph's friend, Bill McGovern. He's an old man with no active sex life and he doesn't have any stereotypically gay mannerisms, so when he offhandedly mentions it, it comes completely out of the blue for the reader.
  • Suicide Attack: Ed Deepneau tries to crash a plane into the Derry Civic Center to kill Patrick Danville.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Ralph tries staying up late deliberately to make himself super-sleepy, hopefully, sleepy enough to fall asleep for once. He thinks it's working, until shortly after three in the morning, when the sleepiness starts slowly disappearing. The narration describes Ralph's reaction as "it wasn't panic he felt, but sick dismay."
  • Tragic Monster: Ed Deepneau used to be a perfectly nice guy with a happy family, but under Atropos' influence he became an unstable, violent terrorist. It's implied that at least some of this was fated.
  • Tranquil Fury: Atropos spends the entire novel swearing and throwing screaming tantrums. Then Ralph manages to land a few solid hits on him, and Atropos gets very calm. That's when Ralph realizes, a bit belatedly, that he should be very, very afraid.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Susie Day is very much this, with her visit to town giving Atropos the perfect opportunity to stir things up.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Atropos throws a tantrum whenever his plans are thwarted.
  • Warm Milk Helps You Sleep: Drinking a glass of warm milk is one of the many solutions offered to Ralph by his friends and neighbors when he starts suffering from insomnia. Since his insomnia has a supernatural cause, it doesn't help at all.
  • Weirdness Search and Rescue: The Three Bald Doctors. Two of them, Clotho and Lachesis, were benevolent; the third, Atropos, was decidedly not.
  • Widow 'Cross the Way. Not a "girl next door" in the traditional sense, but hey, why not? Lois.
  • Western Terrorists: By the end of the novel, Ed Deepneau and his closest cohorts have become this, killing people in the name of stopping abortion.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: While the insomnia sucks, thanks to its origin the two main characters gain the ability to see and interact with auras. Most notably for this, they can also absorb a tiny amount of aura from a person to replenish their own youth and can do so indefinitely. While this disturbs the two of them, it's made abundantly clear that not only does this have no lasting consequences for the person drained, even the immediate consequences amount to nothing more than hearing a loud noise unless you go absolutely crazy overboard, and even then it's fixable. Despite this, it's rather clear the two of them have no interest in prolonging their lives any more than is natural even though it wouldn't hurt anyone.