Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me by Bill Hayes


Some days, I feel like Sylvia Plath married to Anne Sexton- or is it Anne Sexton married to Sylvia Plath?- but without the depression or suicides. 

Just poetry.

This is a bitingly beautiful book, a celebration of life, love, loss, New York and the relationship between Bill Hayes and Oliver Sacks. In truth, I fell in love with Oliver myself bathing in the memories Hayes showers on the reader. There seemed to be an infinite childlike curiosity and lust for life in Sacks, and an overflow of genius. How could Bill not be changed by his love for Oliver nor feel such a crippling loss of such a soul in his life? New York might well break your heart, and so will the love and tenderness Bill Hayes shares in this gorgeous memoir.

The connections fired off in Oliver’s brain each day, looking at ordinary things we usually dismiss,warmed me to my toes.  There is something refreshing about Oliver and Hayes love for him shines through the telling. The photography of Bill’s is moving, not everyone can capture a person’s essence in a photograph- Bill Hayes has. There are sweet stories about Bill’s encounters with strangers, and one of my favorite photographs he took is of Ilona Royce Smithkin, the eye artist. There is something endearing about her art, and in the photo of her by a window, she is just as I imagined she would look. It has to be said my favorite part of the book is when they meet with Björk, yes-the singer. I was tickled to learn Oliver wasn’t aware of who she was and the meeting of like minds moved me. They were familiar to each other in spirit, both curious and brilliant in their own right, fame not withstanding.

Oliver isn’t Bill’s only love, nor loss. First was Steve, his partner that passed away from cardiac arrest as he slept deeply beside him. To say he was bereft is minimizing the horror, the crumbling of one’s reality when death steals away our loved ones. In an effort to outrun his grief, he travels but his life eventually begins anew when he starts over in New York. Unlike so many youthful dreamers that head to bustling city, Oliver was nearing 50 years of age. Is it possibly to become a New Yorker when you aren’t as fresh and new? Though he an Oliver had first become acquainted when Sacks wrote Bill a letter, meeting when he visited NY, it wasn’t the catalyst for the move. He needed a change, needed to shed his life in San Francisco- it was time for rebirth. It was a blessing that love blossomed between Oliver as they saw more of each other, no longer on opposite sides of the country, a man 30 years his senior comes to mean so much to his life. You just never know what is waiting for you on the other side of grief, as Bill soon learned. We are lucky to be a part of Hayes’ love affair with New York, strangers, photography and always, Oliver. Though it’s a book that speaks of grief, I found it to be much more a memoir celebrating love and the promise of living, of forging ahead with hope and joy.

Nearing the end of Oliver’s life I felt my heart weighted, for a light was leaving our world. As he lay dying and his friends and lover gathered together and read to him I thought ‘what a tender manner to slip away in your last days.’ To the end Oliver was brave and curious and loved, much loved. A true love story just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Beautiful Memoir with lovely photographs. It was touching in every way.

Publication Date: February 14, 2017

Bloomsbury USA

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