Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book Review: 3 A.M.

Title: 3 a.m.
Author: Nick Pirog
Publisher: Alex Tooms Inc
Pages: 100

It was the premise that attracted me.

Henry Bins suffers from Henry Bins, a condition so rare, it has been named after him.

While the average person is awake for 16 hours each day, Henry is awake only for one hour every day, from 3 am to 4 am. The rest of the time, he can’t help sleeping a deep sleep from which no one can rouse him. There is no cure for the condition.

His body automatically jolts to wakefulness when it is 3 am. At the stroke of 4 am, he falls asleep, slumping down wherever he may find himself, often hitting his head on whatever object he falls upon.

While his mother abandoned him when he was still a child, his father has stood by him, a rock solid support. He has taught him Maths, Science and spelling, and made him as educated and knowledgeable as any other above average person among us.

At the beginning, he has a schedule for his lone wakeful hour. It consists of watching Game of Thrones on the Internet for 10 minutes, eating breakfast, which his house help has made for him, running some miles for exercise, messaging or talking to his dad, and showering. That schedule alters drastically when he hears a woman's scream, coming from the house on the other side of the street, and sees the face of the President of the United States, stepping out of her house – all this just as the clock strikes the hour of 4 am.

That is when the pace of the book steps up. On waking up, Henry is determined to find out if the woman is dead or alive, and if the President has been guilty of murder.

It’s an unlikely story, but Nick Pirog imbues it with passion, realism and a sense of urgency. He makes the investigation seem believable, filling it with intensity and a sense of haste that I have seen in the TV series, 24, with the additional challenge here of having to scrunch up all that excitement within the confines of one hour each day.

Like Henry, we find ourselves wondering about how much he has to accomplish in so little time. Nick, and Henry, never lets us lose sight of the time in the one hour and the criticality of each minute. Accounting for the time, minute by minute, you find yourself wondering if Henry will reach the safety of his bed, or if he will drop down even as he is being chased by the goons.

The story of his life, and that of the investigation, is played out in short one-hour nocturnal bursts. For the rest of the time, the world comes to a standstill, since our first person narrator is asleep. He does fill us in though, thanks to information streaming in through the Internet.

The character of Henry’s father comes across as very likeable. The guy genuinely loves his son, and is patient with the demands that his strange condition imposes on him.

Henry’s own conversational exchanges with Lassie, the dead woman’s cat who not only adopts Henry but also wholeheartedly embraces his condition, are also very amusing. 

I also liked the cover of the book, with its use of an innovative typeface for the name of the author. It lacks accuracy, though, since Henry solves the mystery over the course of many hours, spread over many days, and not in 3600 seconds, as the cover would have us believe.

The book succeeded in highlighting the importance of time through the premise of the strange,and completely fictional, 23-hour-sleep disorder. We have more time at our disposal, but what do we do with it? It wouldn't hurt to be more aware and mindful of how we spend every wakeful minute of our lives, and not pretend as though we will always have a never-ending supply of time to fritter away in mindless pursuits.

Of course, the plot is not without holes, as the premise does not account for what might happen if Henry were to fall sick. And while Henry understands that Lassie has to do his business, he himself does not seem to have any pressing business of his own to attend to, in the crucial one hour. 

No peeing happens either, in all the time we know him. And even though he's studied only in the one hour available to him, he's still super smart. I also found it strange that the police would be actively investigating murders at 3 am, day after day, when they don't suffer from Henry Bins syndrome at all. Also, the romantic element playing out between 3 am and 4 am at the close of the book is stupid and annoying.

But that is just a minor quibble. 3 am is extremely racy, and you won’t find yourself cribbing if Henry Bins keeps you awake long past your bedtime.

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