‘The Dreamers’, by Karen Thompson Walker
What happens when college students, then most of an entire town, mysteriously fall asleep and can’t wake up? Are they dreaming? Living in a parallel world? Simply relieved they don’t have to deal with President Trump’s bullshit any longer? That’s the intriguing premise behind Karen Thompson Walker’s second novel, The Dreamers, in which she ably captures the panic, chaos and existential questions that occur when a once quiet Southern California town suddenly gets really, really quiet.
The unnamed sleeping sickness first strikes kids in a college dorm. Walker writes these particular characters with great skill. She captures the personalities and tumultuous inner lives of this age group, from Mei the introvert to the weird kid who ends up with one of the more surprising storylines. I’d read any plot involving these characters, but throwing them into a situation where they’re quarantined and watching their friends die makes for a gripping, realistic tale. If Netflix hasn’t already optioned The Dreamers, I’m sure it will soon.
Besides the college kids, Walker tells the compelling stories of a young couple with a baby, an older professor and his even older husband who’s dealing with dementia, and two young girls trying to survive their survivalist father. Life is tough enough. But now they have to deal with the repercussions of a sleeping disease?
I admit The Dreamers lost me a bit when it got to the “Is this real or a dream or a real dream or how do I know this isn’t the future?” part. I’m either not intellectually capable or willing to figure all of that out without a few cocktails and maybe an edible. But any readers who find that type of analysis and speculation interesting will love it. Still, don’t let that sway you from this well-written, readable story that I guarantee won’t make you want to take a nap.
(Random House, January 15, 2019)