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Book Reviews - Body Work, and Twenty-Four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives

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Body Work by Sara Paretsky (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $26.95). Paretsky’s new novel, which features Chicago private investigator V. I. (Victoria) Warshawski, is the fourteenth in the series Paretsky began in1982. Body Work has Warshawski, as most people call her, looking into the murder of a young woman from Pilsen outside a Chicago nightclub, an investigation that leads her into layers of corruption among defense contractors headquartered in the industrial corridor northwest of the city. The complicated plot, narrated as always in the first person by Vic herself, involves episodes from the war in Iraq as well.
    In this new volume Warshawski remains sardonic (“The claims manager seemed to have the intelligence of an eggplant”), tough (“When a figure in black outran me and pulled me down, I rolled over and away, got in a crouch, gun out”) and committed to righting the wrong in the world (“I’m driven by the despair of seeing so much misery around me”). Is it too much to expect, though, that after twenty-eight years of knocking around the city and sustaining blows, Warshawski might sometimes wake up with a touch of osteoarthritis? In Body Work she does acknowledge that she is over fifty and wonders if she will soon need reading glasses. She also takes offense when a hired gun calls her “a dried-up cougar.” Yet these references to her age seem tossed in and perfunctory, because her mounting years have in no way cramped her style. And is it too much to expect that after twenty-eight years as a P. I., Vic might occasionally have learned something from her past mistakes?   Body Work has her still charging on her own into a pitch-black nightclub, where gun-wielding thugs in ski masks are working over two women, and without even telling anyone where she is going. She then proceeds to fuse two wires together, giving herself an intense electric shock and setting the nightclub on fire. And this woman prides herself on her cunning. With very few exceptions, the most compelling lead characters in crime series—for example, Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison of Prime Suspect, another tough female operative—battle age as well as evil, suffering from their battle scars and developing some measure of wisdom with experience. In the absence of this physical and mental evolution, Warshawski seems cartoonish, a kind of Nancy Drew for grownups. Furthermore, the city of Chicago never changes in this series; it remains a basically sleazy underworld sort of place, albeit one with new millennium technology.  Mayor Daley’s beautification accomplishments and the city’s high profile on the world cultural scene don’t even get a nod.
   Yet this book, like the others before it, is enormously readable, fast-paced and focused. Paretsky’s prose is crisp and competent, and she knows how to structure an intricate narrative in relatively short punchy chapters, often with clever titles. If only Paretsky would work a little harder at rounding out her characters and letting them grow.—Julie West Johnson

Twenty-Four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives by Rosalind Cartwright (Oxford University Press, $27.95). Rosalind Cartwright is a Chicago-based sleep researcher and a former chairman at Rush University who spent her career trying to understand what dreams are and why we need them. This is the question that puzzles all of us from time to time. Twenty-Four Hour Mind is for anyone curious about what our mind is up to while we sleep and how its nightshift work can shape our daytime experiences. The book will take you on an exciting journey that starts and ends with a simple question of “why do we sleep and dream?” Along the road you will see why dreams are not just useless and bizarre outbursts of our imagination, but are important tools that our brain uses to cope with difficulties that come our way. In dreams we learn to deal with our negative emotions in the context of our everyday lives.
   At night our brain sorts through everything we heard, saw, felt and learned during the day and decides what is relevant and what is not. New memories are being linked to what we already know, forming new connections in the brain and helping us remember things that really matter. Finally, the physiological drives, such as hunger, are also regulated at night-time, hence there is an intimate connection between the lack of sleep and overeating during the day. So maybe in addition to counting calories we should go on a “sleep diet?” This book will also show you how disruptions of a normal sleep-wake cycle can have interesting and, sometimes, devastating consequences including major depression, nightmares, sleep-eating, sleep-sex and even a murder during an episode of sleepwalking!
   This book will make you giggle, and worry, and wonder, and cry, and, most importantly, think. Unlike popular self-help books on the market, the Twenty Four Hour Mind will not supply you with the “10 steps to cure insomnia or depression.” Rather, it will show you how the sleeping mind works, so that you can use this knowledge to help yourself. The book has a solid scientific foundation and is based on many decades of rigorous research. Yet, it is extremely readable, full of vivid images and amusing stories (my favorite is about a sleepwalker preparing a delicious dinner of sliced bananas fried in boiling vinegar). While emphasizing the value of good sleep, this book definitely kept me up and awake until the late hours of the night.—Marina Bayeva

Published: December 14, 2010
Issue: 2010 Philanthropy Issue