I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Published by Random House on January 15, 2019
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Also by this author: The Age of Miracles
In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned.
Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?
‘…so much of this life will remain always beyond her understanding, as obscure as the landscapes of someone else’s dreams.’
In Southern California, a small town becomes the epicenter of a strange contagion that causes people to sleep indefinitely. Some won’t ever open their eyes again. There’s confusion and hysteria regarding how it’s spread, how to contain it, and meanwhile, more and more people fall victim to the seemingly unavoidable illness. But while it appears that these individuals are sleeping peacefully, inside, their minds are more active than any recorded human brain in history. But what exactly do they dream of, in this inescapable slumber? While they sleep, the waking ones are left to care for their bodies to ensure that one day it will be possible for them to wake again. As the day’s pass and questions remain unanswered, the dreamers begin to outnumber the ones that remain awake.
Karen Thompson Walker once again brings us a dystopian tale that is unsettling in its plausibility. The Dreamers shows us a glimpse at a multitude of individuals within this town without becoming overwhelming: the student that regrets leaving for college and hopes for a day when she’s able to go home, the parents with a newborn who fear falling victim and leaving their baby alone, the young girls that have always fended for themselves fine but now have no other choice when their father falls asleep. The focus on a variety of individuals manages to show the differences in how they react to the unknown by the different facets of their fear and builds on that frenzy of inner turmoil, not knowing what actions to take to avoid becoming the next victim. It’s when the reader is given a glimpse into the mind of a dreamer that you begin to wonder if these individuals are in fact “victims”.
I was a huge fan of Walker’s debut, The Age of Miracles, and I was thrilled to see her focus on another dystopian centered story. The Dreamers, however, takes a different route focusing on the philosophical aspects of the contagion rather the scientific reasoning behind it. This difference in focus, and Walker’s enchanting writing style, inevitably gives the story a dreamlike feel that pairs well with the feeling of disconnect these characters exude, quarantined within a town and simply waiting for the day that they too fall asleep and never wake. The Dreamers doesn’t necessarily end in ambiguity but it certainly lacks concrete answers that would normally be expected in novels of this ilk but are exactly what you’d expect in an actual dream. This story still manages to be incredibly satisfying as long as you’re willing to lose yourself in its slow, hypnotic rhythm.