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INSOMNIA: Two Wives, Childhood Memories and Crazy Dreams

By Jack Hawn

IR Rating:
Great in short spurts, Jack Hawn's INSOMNIA: Two Wives, Childhood Memories and Crazy Dreams is an entertaining, if uneven, memoir.
A longtime Hollywood journalist looks back on his professional and personal lives.

Born in 1930 in Kearney, Nebraska, Jack Hawn worked first as an Army information officer, then for forty-three years as a journalist in Hollywood. He covered Muhammad Ali, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and other celebrities, also trying his hand at writing for television and radio. This is all covered in his first book, Blind Journey: A Journalist’s Memoirs.

His second book, INSOMNIA: Two Wives, Childhood Memories and Crazy Dreams, covers a lot of the same territory while adding a second theme: love. Hawn married his first wife, Charlene, in 1951, and his second wife, Mary Beth, in 2020. In between, he did a lot of stuff. Went a lot of places. Met a lot of people. He did a lot of stuff as a kid in Southern California, too. Hawn tells the reader about his adventures in a discursive manner, moving from anecdote to anecdote without any real road map. Some are introduced as memories that come upon him in the early hours amid bouts of sleeplessness, which is where the book gets its title. The writing is good overall. Hawn renders his scenes with a sportswriter’s eye for detail, and there is quite a bit of pitch-perfect humor, as in this observation about his first date with Charlene in 1948: “The half-hour drive to the theater didn’t melt even a cube of ice.” She would also transition from being a boxing agnostic to someone who heckled Muhammad Ali at a Las Vegas party.

Yet waking dreams are a vague hook on which to hang a narrative. This leads to the book’s biggest weakness: lack of context. When a celebrity writes a memoir, it is evident why they are doing it. The public is fascinated by the lives of the rich and famous. Ordinary people don’t have that built-in interest, which is why they have to make the case for their memoirs. There must be a reason for why this particular story has to be told at this particular time, and Jack Hawn’s reason seems to be nothing more than that he has lived a full life and wants to talk about it. This no doubt contributes to the book’s second-biggest weakness: its nonlinear structure. It works well for fiction, not so well for nonfiction. Bottom line: like the journalist he is, Jack Hawn writes great short pieces. Unfortunately, the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts.

Great in short spurts, Jack Hawn’s INSOMNIA: Two Wives, Childhood Memories and Crazy Dreams is an entertaining, if uneven, memoir.

~Anthony Aycock for IndieReader

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