A memoir of Hayes’ surpassingly tender and exuberant romance with Sacks in his last seven years of life, it is also a book about the necessity of self-reinvention ... The excerpts from this journal that appear in Insomniac City capture the neurologist’s exquisitely memorable way of saying things, which made one wish that one was always carrying a tape recorder in his presence ... Much of the loveliest writing in the book, however, belongs to Hayes alone...Ultimately, what makes a memoir worth reading is its acuity of observation, and Hayes is a 21st century flaneur — like Whitman or Baudelaire with a digital camera and an insatiable appetite for the serendipitous connections that thrive in liminal places like the subway ... Like Patti Smith’s haunting M Train, Hayes’ book weaves seemingly disparate threads of memory into a kind of sanctuary — a secret place where one can shake off the treasured relics of past lives and prepare to be reborn anew.
Read just 50 pages, and you’ll see easily enough how Hayes is Sacks’s logical complement. Though possessed of different temperaments, both are alive to difference, variety, the possibilities of our rangy humanity; both are avid chroniclers of our species — Sacks in his case studies, and Hayes in his character sketches of the people he meets in the street. Hayes is a true flâneur, a man who actively engages the city with all of his senses ... I adore this observation. Yet readers should be warned: Hayes’s writing can also be terribly precious ... Hayes’s poetry is pedestrian, but his street photographs are not. They are frank, beautiful, bewitching — they unmask their subjects’ best and truest selves. And his account of Sacks’s final months will no doubt inspire many readers.
Although Hayes and Sacks never married, the charming, intimate portrait that emerges earns a place on the shelf of moving spousal tributes ... Hayes wisely jotted down snippets of their conversations, which reveal the probing and often unexpected trajectory of Sacks' thoughts ... Insomniac City teems with sweet, unguarded moments ... Hayes' touching portrait of Sacks' last years is the main attraction here. His offbeat urban cameos reveal a remarkable openness, but can come across as subtly condescending, precious, or even grating, however well-intended ... Nonetheless, Hayes emerges as an unusually kind, caring man.