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The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker was one of my most anticipated books of 2019. I loved her first book, The Age of Miracles, and the premise of her followup was intriguing.
At a dorm in a small college town, a freshman girl falls asleep and doesn’t wake up. Soon, other students also fall into deep sleeps and are hospitalized, kept alive by tubes. The remaining students are isolated, but others in the town succumb. Soon the town itself is under quarantine, its residents living in fear of falling asleep and volunteers risking themselves to keep people alive.
A mother is quarantined away from her daughter. Two college students squat in a house and wander town, searching for sleepers to get them to help. A couple tries to protect their newborn baby while living in the fog of new parenthood. Two young girls hide in their house after their survivalist father falls asleep, terrified that they’ll be taken from one another.
The Dreamers is less dystopian fiction and more rumination on the true nature and power of dreams, as well as the freedoms we sacrifice in the name of fear and safety.
The human brain is subject to all kinds of misperceptions, and the waking mind not always more attuned to reality than the dreaming one.
Elements of Interest
- Second novel from Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Age of Miracles, which I loved
- Dystopian story about a mysterious sleeping sickness that overtakes a town
Beautiful, Dreamlike Prose
Karen Thompson Walker’s writing is mesmerizing, and given the sleepy, dreamy theme of this book, her tone was exactly right.
The illness plaguing the town didn’t take it by storm; it moved in quietly, and during an act that no one could avoid. Some people woke up, and others just didn’t. The book positively radiated with fear, questions, and the unknown. Who would succumb next? What happened to the people who fell ill? What could the town do–and what would the world do if the illness spread?
A Big Story Told in a Small Way
What I love about Karen Thompson Walker’s speculative fiction is the way she takes big events and brings them close, focusing on the individuals who are affected. The global implications are there, but are not the focus. This was what I loved about The Age of Miracles, her first novel about a shift in the earth’s rotation, which focused on a single family and teenage girl. In The Dreamers, the isolation of the small town and the individual stories make the prospects of such an epidemic feel more realistic and frightening.
Humanity in the Face of Disaster
Dystopian stories have primed us to expect the worst of people, should disaster ever strike. Everything from looting to murder to cannibalism seems inevitable. One thing I loved about The Dreamers was the way the people in this small town helped one another. People were not abandoned to die when they fell asleep. Homes and businesses, for the most part, were not looted. Volunteers came to help, despite the danger. It wasn’t perfection, but it was hopeful.
What Didn’t Work
Character Hopping in the First Half
The only difficulty I had with The Dreamers was the large number of characters that the story jumped around to, especially in the first half of the book. As the illness spread, some characters were named and some were not, but it took a while to discern which characters would matter–and for me to feel connected to any of them.
This was remedied later in the book as the primary characters emerged, the story felt small again as I described above, and I started to care more about what would happen to the individuals. Until it reached that point, though, I had the feeling of watching the town from above, looking in on what was happening but not getting to know the people.
While it took me a while to connect with the characters in the way that I did with KTW’s debut, The Age of Miracles, her fitting dreamlike prose, compelling premise, and hopeful portrayal of humans in the face of disaster made The Dreamers another winner for me.
For Readers Who Liked:
- The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
- Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
Buy The Dreamers on Amazon.