NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW EDITORS’ CHOICE • An ordinary town is transformed by a mysterious illness that triggers perpetual sleep in this mesmerizing novel from the bestselling author of The Age of Miracles.
“Stunning.”—Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven • “A startling, beautiful portrait of a community in peril.”—Entertainment Weekly
One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student 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, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster.
Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, higher than has ever been recorded before. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?
Written in luminous prose, The Dreamers is a breathtaking and beautiful novel, startling and provocative, about the possibilities contained within a human life—if only we are awakened to them.
Praise for The Dreamers
“Walker’s roving fictive eye by turns probes characters’ innermost feelings and zooms out to coolly parse topics like reality versus delusion. . . . [It has] the perfect ambiguous frame for a tense and layered plot.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“[Walker’s] gripping, provocative novel should come with a warning: may cause insomnia.”—People (Book of the Week)
“Powerful and moving . . . written with symphonic sweep.”—The New York Times Book Review
“2019’s first must-read novel . . . Alternately terrifying and moving . . . The Dreamers is overflowing with humanity.”—Jezebel
“This is an exquisite work of intimacy. Walker’s sentences are smooth, emotionally arresting—of a true, ethereal beauty. . . . This book achieves [a] dazzling, aching humanity.”—Entertainment Weekly
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Karen Thompson Walker is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Age of Miracles, which has been translated into twenty-seven languages and named one of the best books of the year by People, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Financial Times, among others. Born and raised in San Diego, Walker is a graduate of UCLA and the Columbia MFA program. She lives with her husband, the novelist Casey Walker, and their two daughters in Portland. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon.
Read an Excerpt
At first, they blame the air.
It’s an old idea, a poison in the ether, a danger carried in by the wind. A strange haze is seen drifting through town on that first night, the night the trouble begins. It arrives like weather, or like smoke, some say later, but no one can locate any fire. Some blame the drought, which has been bleeding away the lake for years, and browning the air with dust.
Whatever this is, it comes over them quietly: a sudden drowsiness, a closing of the eyes. Most of the victims are found in their beds.
But there are some who will tell you that this sickness is not entirely new, that its cousins have sometimes visited ours. In certain letters from earlier centuries, you may find the occasional reference—decades apart—to a strange kind of slumber, a mysterious, persistent sleep.
In 1935, two children went to bed in a Dust Bowl cabin and did not wake for nine days. Some similar contagion once crept through a Mexican village—El Niente, they called it: “the Nothing.” And three thousand years before that, a Greek poet described a string of strange deaths in a village near the sea: they died, he wrote, as if overcome by sleep—or, according to a second translation: as if drowned in a dream.
This time, it starts at the college.
It starts with a girl leaving a party. She feels sick, she tells her friends, like a fever, she says, like the flu. And tired, too, as tired as she has ever felt in her life.
The girl’s roommate, Mei, will later recall waking to the sound of the key turning in the lock. Mei will remember the squeak of the springs in the dark as her roommate—her name is Kara—climbs into the bunk above hers. She seems drunk, this girl, the way she moves so slowly from door to bed, but the room is dim, and—as usual—they do not speak.
In the morning, Mei sees that Kara has slept in her clothes. The narrow black heels of her boots are sticking out beneath the blankets of the upper bunk. But Mei has seen her do this once before. She is careful not to wake her as she dresses. She is quiet with her keys and with the door. Mei leaves only the lightest possible impression on this space—the comfort of not being seen.
This is California, Santa Lora, six weeks into Mei’s freshman year.
Mei stays away from the room all day. She feels better this way, still stunned by how quickly it happened, how the friendships formed without her, a thick and sudden ice.
Each evening, Kara and the other girls on the floor stand in towels in the bathroom, blocking the sinks as they lean toward the mirrors to line their lips and eyes. Mei can hear them laughing from the desk in her room across the hall, their voices loud above the hum of the blow-dryers.
“It takes time to get to know people,” her mother says over the phone. “Sometimes it takes years.”
But there are certain stories that Mei has not told her mother. Like those boys who came to the door the first week of school. There was a bad smell in the hall, they’d said, and they’d tracked it to this room. “It’s like something died in here,” they’d said, walking in without asking, filling up the narrow room, flip-flops and board shorts, baseball caps low on their heads.
The boys got excited when they began to sniff around Mei’s desk. “That’s it,” they’d said, pressing their hands to their noses. “It’s gotta be something in there.” They’d pointed to the bottom drawer. “What the hell do you have in there?”
It was her mother’s dried cod, which had arrived in the company of three bars of dark chocolate and two lavender soaps.
“My mom makes it,” she’d said. This is one of her mother’s few inheritances from her own mother, Mei’s grandmother, the only one in the family born in China and not San Diego. “It’s fish.”
She knows that these boys refer to her as quiet girl, as in Hey, quiet girl, it’s okay to talk. She does not think of herself that way, as especially quiet, but there she was, as if under their sway: suddenly not talking.
“Jesus,” said the one named Tom, who is taller than the others and plays basketball for the school team. He’d tied a red bandanna around his face, like a worker in a Civil War hospital. “That is foul,” he said.
Every time she remembers it, that bandanna over his mouth, Mei’s face turns hot with the shame of it.
In the end, she dropped the bag of cod down the trash chute at the end of the hall, ten floors down, the scrape of plastic on tin, while the boys gathered around her to make sure.
“I didn’t know they’d be like that,” Kara said later. This is how she learned that Kara was the one who told the boys about a smell in the room, though she’d said nothing at all to Mei.
This is one of the reasons that Mei spends her afternoons at a campus café, where, on this particular day in October, she waits until she is sure her roommate and the other girls will be gone from the floor, their hair dryers quiet, their flat-irons cool, and the girls themselves enmeshed by then in the complicated rituals of their sororities. The boys, she hopes, will be at dinner.
But when Mei gets back to the floor that night, nine hours after she left it, she finds a note, written in red, on the whiteboard that hangs on their door. “We’re leaving,” it says. “Where are you?” These words—it is obvious—are meant for her roommate.
When Mei unlocks the door, she finds Kara still lying where she left her that morning, her body curled toward the wall in the top bunk, her black boots still protruding from the sheets.
“Kara?” she says softly. Outside, the sun is sinking. The sky is clear and turning pink. Mei switches on the overhead light. “Kara?” she says again.
But Kara does not wake. Not to the sound of Mei’s pleading, or to the louder voices of the two paramedics who soon detect—through her badly wrinkled dress—that she is breathing, at least, that she still has a pulse.
Kara sleeps through the screaming of the other girls as they see the way her head rolls back against the stretcher, the way her mouth hangs open, her brown hair falling loose across her face. She sleeps through the screeching of the crickets in the pine trees outside, and through the cool night air on her skin.
Mei stands barefoot on the sidewalk as the paramedics slide the stretcher into the bright bubble of the ambulance, a little roughly, thinks Mei. Be careful, she wants to say. And then the doors swing shut without her, leaving Mei alone in the street.
The paramedics will later report that the girl sleeps through the wail of the siren, too, and the flashing of the lights. She sleeps through the bumps of the potholed streets as the ambulance rushes toward St. Mary’s, where, after several attempts, two doctors find that they cannot wake her, either.
On the other floors of the hospital that night, women labor while the girl sleeps. Babies are born while she sleeps. She sleeps while an old man dies in a distant room, an expected death—his family gathered, a chaplain.
She sleeps through sunrise, and she sleeps through sunset.
And yet, in those first few hours, the doctors can find nothing else wrong. She looks like an ordinary girl sleeping ordinary sleep.
There will be some confusion, later, about what happened to her there, how her heart could have slowed so much without setting off the monitors. But this much is known to be true: over the course of many hours, her shallow breaths turn gradually shallower.
It is hard to say afterward why the final beats of her heart go unrecorded by those machines.
The girls: they cry and cry, and they do not sleep. They sit around in their slippers and their sweats on the hard carpet of one another’s rooms. They hold hands. They drink tea. If only they had checked on her sooner, they think. If only they had listened when she said she felt sick. They should have known, is the feeling. They should have done something. Maybe, they think, they could have saved her.
The boys turn quiet and they drink even more—cheap beer bought with fake IDs. They keep their hands in their pockets those first few days and just try to stay out of the way of the girls. It is as if the boys can sense it, even in those girls, in their easy closeness and their interlocking arms: the whole history of women and suffering, the generations of practice at grief.
To the girls, it feels wrong to get dressed. It feels wrong to wear makeup. Hair goes unwashed and legs go unshaven and contacts float untouched in solution. They wear glasses, it is then revealed to the boys. More than half of those girls wear glasses.
Her poor mother, the girls say to one another, their knees clutched tight to their chests, as if the shock has turned them even younger. They picture their own mothers. They imagine the phones ringing in their own kitchens, back home, in other towns in other states: Arizona, Nebraska, Illinois. I can’t imagine it, the girls say to one another, I just can’t imagine.
The funeral is in Kansas. It’s too far to go.
“We should do something for her parents,” says one of the girls. They are coming the next day, the girls have heard, to collect Kara’s things. “We should order flowers.”
The girls all agree right away. There is an intense desire to do the proper thing. This feels like their induction. Suddenly, here is life, cut right to its center. Here it is, dismantled to its bones.
They settle on lilies, two dozen, in white. Everyone signs the card.
They can think of nothing else useful to do, but a certain yearning persists. Meanwhile, a new generosity flows between them. How small their other concerns begin to seem, how meaningless, compared. Fights end, and slights are forgiven, and two of the girls reconcile by phone with the faraway boys who they loved so much in high school and who they had thought, until now, they’d outgrown.
But still, the girls want something more. They long to be of use.
When Mei walks down the hall, her arms crossed and her head down and her black hair pulled tight into a braid, the girls notice her as they have never noticed her before.
She shouldn’t blame herself, they all agree. None are sure of her name, the Chinese girl, or maybe Japanese, who lived in the same room as Kara. There is no way she could have known that Kara needed help.
“We should tell her that it’s not her fault,” one of them whispers. “We should tell her that she shouldn’t feel bad.”
But they stay where they are.
“Does she speak English?” says another.
“Of course she does,” says another one. “I think she’s from here, right?”
Somewhere, from another room, there floats the smell of microwave popcorn. No one is going to class.
The basket of lilies arrives that afternoon, but it is less than the girls had hoped, unable, in the end, to accomplish what they had wanted, which is to convey what they can say in no other way, something essential for which they do not know the words.
Kara’s parents: their faces are pale and hollowed. She is a woman in a gray sweater. She is Kara with different skin. The father wears a beard and a flannel shirt. He is a man who thirty years earlier might have been any one of those boys of the floor, slouching in a doorframe, his hands in his pockets like theirs, unaware of what is waiting up ahead.
Slowly, they begin to pack their daughter’s things.
The girls grow shy at the sight of them. They hide out in their rooms, afraid to say the wrong thing. For a while, the only sound on the floor is the harsh crack of packing tape, torn from its dispenser, or sometimes the clinking of emptied hangers, the soft slip of dresses being packed into boxes.
Watching those parents from afar, the girls are quick to mistake all the ordinary signs of midlife—those wrinkles in his forehead, those dark circles beneath her eyes—for evidence of grief instead of age. And maybe, in a way, the girls are right: those faces are proof of the passage of years, and it is the passage of years that has led them right here to this task.
The voices of Kara’s parents are hoarse and wispy, as if they were the ones who were sick. Once, a sudden gasp comes from the mother’s throat, “Stop it, Richard,” she says, and she begins to sob. “You’re ripping it.”
This is the moment when Mei peeks out at the parents, as if watching from a great distance, which, in a way, she is.
The father is struggling to roll up one of Kara’s posters. It’s Paris, black-and-white, tacked to the wall with pushpins, and bought, Mei knows, from the campus bookstore the first week of school. So familiar has the poster become to Mei that she has begun to associate Kara with the girls in the photograph, laughing and glamorous on a cobblestone street in the rain.
“Just stop touching it,” the mother says to the father. “Please.”
After that, the father is quiet.
Mei lingers in the hallway. She should introduce herself to these parents, that’s what her mother would say.
But there is something unbearable about the way that man looks out the window, so like Mei’s own father would, and how he doesn’t seem to know where to put his hands. It is in the way he keeps touching his beard, the way he stands so silently in the corner of that room.
Mei hurries back to her new room without speaking to them.
Only Caleb is brave enough to approach Kara’s parents. Caleb, tall and skinny, brown hair and freckles. Caleb, the English major, a little more serious than the other boys.
The girls watch him shake hands with Kara’s father. They watch the way he holds his Cubs cap at his side while he speaks to Kara’s mother. And the girls—every one of them—long to smooth his hair, which is sticking up on one side and sweaty from where the cap has been.
The girls love him right then for talking to those parents. They love him for knowing what to do.
Reading Group Guide
1. A contagious disease, a quarantined town—thecharacters in The Dreamers are facing an extreme situation. Our culture is dominated by two opposing narratives about how people respond to disasters: Some believe they bring out the worst in people, others that they bring out the best. How do these possibilities play out in The Dreamers?
2. What do you think of Matthew’s character? Are his actions heroic or heartless? Selfless or self aggrandizing? Or some combination? Is it ethical to privilege the lives of one’s loved ones over the lives of strangers?
3. How does The Dreamers differ from other books about disaster and dystopia? What does it have in common with those stories?
4. Some of the sick dream of extraordinarily vivid alternate lives. Consider Rebecca, who dreams of an entire lifetime, including a son. Do you think her dreamed-of life is some how real? Or just a delusion? What about Nathaniel’s extended dream of Henry?
5. Why do you think Karen Thompson Walker chose to feature a large cast of characters instead of focusing on just one person’s experience? How did this choice affect your reading of the book? Did one character resonate with you more than the others?
6. One of the main characters is a college freshman named Mei. How would you describe her personality? How does she change over the course of the novel?
7. The Dreamers includes many parent/child relationships. What do you think of the book’s portrayal of these bonds? How does the crisis affect these relationships?
8. The Dreamers involves a fictitious disease in afictitious town, but what parallels do you see in today’s real world? How do you think the government would respond to a situation like this if it happened today?
9. How do you feel about the ending of the book? How do you imagine the lives of the surviving characters will look five years into the future? How do you think their experiences during the outbreak will affect the rest of their lives?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
a good past time read
4 stars - Thank you to Random House for a chance to read and review this book. I enjoyed this book right up to the ending. I was disappointed in the ending. I felt like the author just bundled everything possible into a dice cup and threw it out there as an ending. Let it land wherever it may. I didn't feel any real closure there. Just - maybe this happened, maybe that happened. No rhyme or reason. I think that took away from the overall story for me. I did enjoy most of the story and most of the characters. I felt the writing was good enough to push me on and keep me turning pages. I do wish that the reveal of what the illness was had been pushed further back in the book. I felt that the reveal was a little bit early in the story. I enjoyed it enough, however, to read another one of her books.
I received an advanced digital copy of this book from Netgalley.com and the publisher Random House. Thanks to both for the opportunity to read and review. Ms. Walker's newest novel, The Dreamers, is exceptional. A sleeping sickness has moved into a small town in California. Predictably, chaos breaks out, but what Ms. Walker does with the story is what makes it exceptional. The tale unfolds through numerous narratives, a college student, a professor, a young girl and her doomsdayer father, a young man with a newborn baby. Interspersed with these is the various theories, scientific, medical, philosophical different ideas on the sickness and more over on the human condition itself. This is not a story of the triumph of the human spirit, though humanity does pull through in the end. It a a tale of the endurance run of an illness and it's aftermath. Nothing is the same. 5 out of 5 stars. Highly recommended.
...Another winner for Karen Walker Thompson! I do love my sci-fi, but THE DREAMERS reads more like a nightmarish tale of horror. Thought I was reading Stephen King there for a bit. The scariest things sometimes are not visible to the naked eye, but appear in our dreams. Something has happened in the small isolated town of Santa Lora, population 12,106. "At first they blame it on the air." Some say it may have even been here before, a curse perhaps....decades ago. This time it begins at a college with a young girl who doesn't feel well, thinks she might have the flu and is so tired, she falls into a deep sleep. More and more students are found sleeping, won't wake up. The sickness spreads to the town....along with fear and panic. A father's declaration seems to become reality, children are left to fend for themselves, and a young, weird idealistic college student who fancies asking what if death scenario questions of his fellow dorm dwellers makes a big decision....one that I guess shouldn't have surprised me....but did. THE DREAMERS is an engrossing character driven novel about an airborne virus "unusually contagious like measles: you can catch measles if you walk through a room ten minutes after an infected person has coughed a single cough." Scary..... But THE DREAMERS....what do they see in their sleep? What is real? What is imaginary?
Set in the small college town of Santa Lora, California both students and residents begin falling victim to a mysterious sleeping disease. A disease in which no origin or cure can be found and no victim can be predicted. The story follows several different main characters, some whom fall victim to the disease and some whom don't. Walker does a superb job of developing each characters persona quickly and effectively so that the reader has a true sense of empathy for them as they navigate their role in the outbreak of this disease. The author also does a great job of weaving her characters stories together and seamlessly making their paths cross one another, leaving the reader to constantly ponder how this small southern California town will comeback from this devastating ordeal. For me, this book lived up to all the hype and great reviews I had read prior to reading. Another plus for this book was that it was a quick read (2.5 days), which for a mom with three kids trying to stick to a reading goal of one book a week is a huge plus and means I have room to try and sneak in one more book this week.
While I loved the way the story was written, I didn’t really connect to any of the characters because the narrative jumped around a lot and for me that left a bit of a disconnect. That being said, it is still a great story that will draw in a lot of readers and keep them reading. The characters that Walker created each have a unique personality and part of the epidemic to highlight. I felt the book did a great job of bringing the reality of the epidemic to light and showing what would really happen in a case like this. It all felt very realistic. I just wish there had been a couple less characters so we could really connect with them better.
Kara told her roommate she was unusually tired when she crawled into her bunk bed. Still in her clothes and her boots from the night before, her roommate left Kara sleeping the next morning knowing that perhaps she needed more sleep, little did she know that Kara would never wake up. The kids watched their father as he stripped himself down to his briefs and using the garden hose, he gave himself a shower when he arrived home. Sara knew something was up when he told her to check on the emergency fall-out shelter water in the basement. Father feels that trouble is a coming, for there is talk of a sleeping sickness that has been spreading and Father is getting nervous. I could feel the anticipation as I read this book, who was going to be next and was anyone ever going to wake up? Why were some people affected and some weren’t? Was this an airborne issue or something else? They soon realize that these sleeping individuals are dreaming, but what would make these individuals have such lengthy dreams and what are they dreaming about? I have had some livid dreams in my life but to sleep for days, I just can’t imagine how involved these dreams must be for these individuals. As we learn about the dreamers, we meet Rebecca and they discover that she is pregnant. Throughout the novel, as she sleeps, her unborn baby’s growth is explained. I was hoping that Rebecca would wake up so that she could be united with her baby but I was also fearful of this happening. I wonder how her dreaming and sleeping affected her child. What would happen to her child if she continues to sleep past her delivery date? Who is the father? There were too many unanswered questions pertaining to Rebecca. I thought the ending of the novel was anticlimactic. I was looking for something more dramatic even if it was a bit over the top. I felt that this novel was driven and that it pulled its readers through its pages yet the ending didn’t continue with that drive. It was a fun and entertaining read but the ending was not what I expected.
It starts with one college student, a girl who wont wake up no matter how hard you try and spreads through a city. Their eyes all move in REM sleep – they are dreaming but what about and will they ever wake up? The Dreamers reminded me very much of the first half of Stephen King’s The Stand – certainly not a bad thing as it is one of my favourite books! I really enjoy the suspense of getting to know certain characters really well and then having them taken by the sickness. I also really liked how you can see the virus spreading from contact of individual characters which made every interaction feel sinister in a way. The chapters switch perspective to a few key, very different characters in the town which gives you a nice overall view of the outbreak. There were a few times I felt like screaming at the characters for making stupid decisions but they were all actually probably quite realistic reactions to the events. In the end the story is much more character-driven than an overarching ‘apocalypse’ style story which was refreshing. Karen Thompson Walker’s writing style is intelligent and beautiful – there’s references in there to science, philosophy, history and politics which meld seamlessly into the narrative. The last third of the book pulled me in so much I couldn’t go to sleep until I’d finished it – and then I found it hard to sleep afterwards just in case I didn’t wake up again! I was a little worried as I watched the percentages tick down to the end about how the story would wrap itself up but I really enjoyed the ending – it’s a good stand alone story which I always appreciate! I also liked that some things were kept a mystery even at the very end which leads you to question and keeps the story in your mind long after you’ve put the book down. Overall The Dreamers is a beautifully sinister read. Thank you to NetGalley, Simon & Schuster UK and Scribner for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
It starts at the college. A student goes to sleep and cannot be woken. We follow a variety of people: college students, professors, medical professionals, new parents and preppers as they navigate the progression of a previously unknown illness that’s sweeping through their geographically isolated town. I felt as though I was watching snapshots of peoples’ lives from a distance. Maybe it was because the narrative circled around so many different people or maybe I failed to make connections I should have but, while I found the writing beautiful in many places, I didn’t feel anything for the people whose lives were being so greatly affected. I liked some of the characters but wasn’t affected when their lives were turned upside down. I also never felt the expected sense of urgency while I was reading. Perhaps this was intentional as the writing did have a dreamlike quality at times, although I’d been more prepared for a nightmarish feel. The narrative just seemed to waft over me and it read more like a series of character studies than the drama I had hoped for. While I didn’t feel, I did think. I enjoyed pondering the nature of reality, consciousness, what it means to sleep and dream, how trees communicate with one another and various philosophical debates that reminded me of when I was at university. Thinking my way through this book seemed to help distract me from the fact that a lot less happens in this book than I’d expected. I spent a lot of the book waiting to find out what the dreamers were dreaming and, while I did get some answers and there were some satisfying conclusions, I was also left with a bunch of unanswered questions. Some people who seemed integral to the story simply faded away without resolution. Rebecca’s story, which I was initially quite interested in, became tedious and annoyed me. Then there was the psychiatrist who I expected to add a lot to the story but didn’t really leave an impression on me. I think what really kept me glued to the pages were the outcasts. Thank you so much to NetGalley and Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster UK, for the opportunity to read this book.
The Dreamers was such an amazing book. A girl in a college dorm falls asleep and will not wake up for days. She eventually dies. Medical professionals cannot figure out what caused her to fall asleep and stay asleep. But before they can even begin to figure it out, more college students are succumbing to sleep. It quickly spreads through a town, causing 1500 people to be unable to wake up. While they are sleeping, they are having extremely vivid dreams that seem almost real. The Dreamers was simply incredible. Once I picked it up, I spent the rest of the day and night reading because I just couldn't put it down. #netgalley #randomhouse
What a beautifully, sad and heartfelt book. I instantly was entranced by the story from the beginning and loved the concept. It has the fear of something real and the wonder of the unknown which are the dreamers. The book moves from different story lines and points of view and as the reader I became so invested in each of them. I loved all the characters and their challenges. My heart was warmed and broken in just a few chapters and I highly recommend. If there was anything I would have to critique it would be I wanted more. I wanted more about how it happened, why it happened, what did the dreams mean, and I guess just the science behind it all. But regardless this was a phenomenal book and I thank the publisher for giving me the opportunity to review. #netgalley #thedreamers
Out January 15th! Ok folks. Here is your first great read of 2019 so add it to your lists and hold onto your hats! If you are at all interested in stories about pandemics/outbreaks/diseases taking over the planet, this book will be your new best friend. I have always had an interest in books, movies, and TV shows about pandemics. Think Contagion, The Walking Dead, The Crazies, World War Z. Ok... they don't always have to be about zombies. But the idea that there is a patient zero and this sickness spreads like wildfire throughout a community has always amazed me. Because it could happen (and already has.... can you say Ebola? Zika? The list goes on). And the strategies we would have to take to contain the spread are also fascinating. I digress. The Dreamers is a unique pandemic story that tells the tale of a sleep-inducing sickness that spreads throughout a small town in California. It starts quietly in a college dorm and slowly spreads throughout the whole town. The townspeople who are affected fall into an unwakeable sleep. Those who are lucky enough to be discovered will be tended to in the increasingly overcrowded hospital. Those who succumb to the sickness alone will die of dehydration. Nobody knows the cause of this sudden outbreak, but soon the residents of Santa Lora will find themselves in "quarantine," forbidden from leaving the infected town. The story follows several different townspeople as they try to weather the storm, fend to stay alive, and plan their next move. Their stories weave together beautifully. My heart was thumping throughout this entire book. I couldn't put it down. I finished it in less than 24 hours because I just could not wait to see what happened next. There was the perfect amount of tension, expertly crafted by Karen Thompson Walker. Several of the individual stories paused at just the right cliffhanger to leave me wanting more. The ending was quite beautiful, and I loved the philosophical messages it sent. I have a feeling the end will not be everybody's cup of tea just because it is not black and white and doesn't give concrete answers to some of the questions presented throughout the book. But I think that's the beautiful part. Just enough was left up to interpretation, and every reader will take home a different message. This book would be a really great read for anybody who enjoyed Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It comes highly recommended from me with five big stars. -I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Karen Thompson Walker, and Random House Publishing for the opportunity to review.-
The Dreamers – Karen Thompson Walker I received this advance reader copy of the book from Netgalley, in exchange for an objective review. Mei is a freshman, who is still settling in to college life at the school nestled in the small California town of Santa Lora. Introverted, Mei is dismayed at the friendships that have formed without her and doesn’t have much of a relationship with her roommate Kara. That is why, when Kara falls ill, Mei thinks nothing of her sleeping in – not until she arrives back at the dorm to find Kara still asleep, and unarousable. Thus begins the ‘sleeping sickness’ as it becomes known to outsiders. A few days later, the sleeping sickness takes another victim, and another. Soon the kids find themselves quarantined in their dorm, while the other kids are whisked away, out of Santa Lora. Meanwhile, the number of victims multiplies, and the CDC becomes actively involved. Remaining unarousable, the victim’s arrear to be dreaming… The town becomes isolated with military personnel manning the borders while physicians search for the cause and the cure. As the afflicted increase in numbers and the rest of the world watches the news in fear, one of the victims awakens, talking of dreams he had that a fire would release the rest of the victims from sleep. Some remember dreams of things past, while others of things presumed to be future, and others no dreams at all. Others still have experiences that makes them question all that they are… While this book was not quite what I expected, I loved it, and it is a story that resonates long after the final page is turned. Full of rich writing, and philosophical questions, it makes one wonder about the fine line between dreams and reality…
There is a lot to like and enjoy in the new book by Karen Thompson Walker. First and foremost, it has a great pedigree because it immediately recalled another excellent book, Station Eleven. The residents of a university town in California start to mysteriously fall asleep, for no visible or medical reason. Soon it becomes apparent that this is an epidemic. This sets up nicely as we follow various characters and how they are affected by this illness. Some storylines are more urgent than others, particularly the events surrounding a baby and its parents. The Dreamers is a book that may not answer all the questions posed by it. It leaves us thinking about family, disease, and how we cope with the unknown. I highly recommend Dreamers.
If you like stories which answer all of your questions by the end and wrap everything up in a neat little bow, The Dreamers may not be for you. However, if dreamy, evocative prose and heartfelt relationships between characters are what make a novel worthwhile for you, I definitely recommend giving The Dreamers a chance. The Dreamers alternates between the perspectives of multiple characters in the aftermath of the outbreak of a mysterious sleeping sickness. Sufferers fall into a REM-like sleep and cannot be awoken, but appear for all intents and purposes to be otherwise healthy. The science fiction aspect of the story remains in the background, while the reactions of people both on an individual level and as a group are the focus of the novel. Facing rising panic in the community as the disease remains a total mystery and continues to spread, we get to know the young daughter of a doomsday prepper who never envisioned this particular possibility, the father of a newborn who is struggling with the danger to which is child is now exposed, the roommate of patient zero who feels guilty for not noticing and trying to help sooner, and a psychiatrist working to solve the mystery of the sleeping sickness. Pressure slowly mounts as a quarantine is put into place and each of these characters spends day after day in fear. This rising tide of panic provides some of the most interesting passages in The Dreamers. The story is deeply psychological, pushing each character to their limits, often coming back to the same question: will you help when it becomes difficult, when it's scary, when it can come at great personal cost? What is your breaking point? What if you would put your loved ones at risk in addition to yourself? With the constant threat of spreading this mystery contagion, some characters will step up and some will run for cover. At each step of the way, we are called to sympathize with them for these choices, whether or not we agree with them. As I said, The Dreamers may not be for you if you need all of your questions answered by the final page of the novel. Despite thoroughly enjoying the process of reading this, I felt at the end that there was a lack of resolution. I wanted more answers. I wanted closure and a concrete sense that those who remained were forever changed by the experience. This lack of resolution kept this from being a five star book for me, but Karen Thompson Walker's gorgeous prose and exploration of human emotions were well worth the time invested in this novel. My thanks for Random House for providing a complimentary copy in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.
When the first student doesn’t wake up after a long party night, nobody is really scared, it’s just something that happens. But when more and more people in the small Southern Californian college town just fall sound asleep, fear starts to grow. What is happening in town? Is this an infection and what does the sleep do to the people? Students, professors, nurses, doctors, average people – they all can catch the mysterious virus which seems to cause wild dreams and a comatose state. Public life slowly comes to a standstill and the town is put under quarantine, it has become too dangerous to go there because nobody knows what kind of new biological threat they are dealing with. Who will win: the virus or the human race? Sometimes there are books that you suddenly see everywhere and everybody seems to talk about them. When I first came across “The Dreamers”, I was convinced that this was nothing for me, I prefer realistic stories and nothing too fancy and out of the ordinary. But the hype about it rose my curiosity and thus, I wanted to know what is behind it all. Well, to sum it up: a notable novel which is skilfully written and got me hooked immediately. What I appreciated especially were two things. First of all, the dramaturgy of the plot. The mysterious virus just infects students and then slowly spreads and the number of characters that we got to know is progressively affected and falls asleep. As the number of victims rises, the life in the small town is reduced more and more to a minimum. It is obvious that there must be some kind of final fight in which either side gains the upper hand and the other succumbs – yet, Karen Thompson Walker finds a different solution which I liked a lot since it perfectly mirrors life’s ambiguity. The second aspect was even more impressive. I fell for the author’s laconic style of writing. It is down to earth, concise and everything but playfully metaphorical. It reflects the characters’ mood of having to survive under the extreme circumstances: Just go on, do what is necessary, keep your head high and make yourself useful. That’s just how it is, so what? No need to fantasize about an alternative world, we just have this situation and need to cope with it. To sum it up: just like the sleep overcomes the characters, this novel could spellbind me.
"Whatever this is, it comes over them quietly: a sudden drowsiness, a closing of the eyes. Most of the victims are found in their beds." Friends, I was so incredibly excited for The Dreamers as I am a sucker for infection stories and the premise of this one sounded so interesting. There's a reader for every book, but unfortunately this one was not for me. While the writing is beautiful, I found the story had too many characters and suffered from a lack of a clear narrative voice that ultimately made it difficult for me to care about the characters. When I say that there is not a main character of the book, I mean it. The narrative shifts between... a lot of different characters in the town as the sickness spreads to the point that I wonder if the main character is meant to be the town itself. In that way the reader is able to draw theories and watch the developments, but for me this had the side effect of being confused. This is a book that would benefit from having a character list at the front to help jog your memory while reading because the narrative shifts are not systematic: sometimes a lot happens before we revisit. The Dreamers is told in third person omniscient with many characters to follow as the sickness makes its way through the small college town. While this narrative voice works a lot of times, for me it did a disservice on this book. I found the plot to being mostly telling, and unfortunately the downside of having a myriad of characters to follow in this narrative voice means you don't really learn much about their thoughts and motivations, and ultimately I didn't care for any of them and I feel like the perspectives lacked any sense of urgency. As a result of my not connecting with the characters, this is a plot-driven but on more than one occasion I found myself confused with the storytelling. There seemed to be a couple of continuity errors, such as characters falling asleep and then not being asleep later, and I honestly spent much of my time reading this book intensely confused. (view spoiler) It is worth noting that I read an uncorrected proof and it is possible that some of the continuity errors I noticed will be fixed prior to publication. Ultimately I think that what worked the least for me personally was it is unclear who is telling this story. Parts of it seem almost like a report after an outbreak but that did not seem to be consistent to me (and that scientific/noting it for history perspective would have SO WORKED HERE), and the ending in my opinion kind of made that less plausible for me. I was hoping that the book would be redeemed by an ending but I was very disappointed with how it ended and did not feel like any of my questions were answered. Where this book shines is with the poetic writing. The book had such a strong start and I was instantly engaged, but unfortunately my engagement dwindled as more characters were introduced. The synopsis makes it seem like the book is about Mei, and while I felt for her the most out of the cast of characters she isn't the central character to the book - had she been it would have been much stronger in my opinion. My opinion is definitely in the minority.
In a small college town a sickness spreads...... first through one of the dorms and then it quickly affects the entire town. Those who are stricken fall into a coma-like sleep that they can not be awoken from. There is widespread panic as people make a run on groceries and supplies. No one knows how the contagion is spread, so there is no way to know what to do to contain it. This book was really good, albeit scary in the thought that something like this could happen. Sometimes the pace seemed a little slow, and some of the characters I felt more invested in their story than others. I would recommend this for fans of pretty much any genre.
Karen Thompson Walker is an extraordinary gifted and accomplished writer. I am just as anxious to read Walker’s first novel, The Age of Miracles for pleasure. Thus, there you have a hint to my review of The Dreamers. The publisher has provided a superb description of The Dreamers, so there is no need for me to add to the description. However, I want to note that we have never read anything like The Dreamers before. Walker takes us into a fictitious story, referred to as both literary and dystopian fiction, and yet dystopia implies squalor, the oppressed and frightened society. However, while there is fear in "the isolated college town" that Walker has created, we also encounter love, hope, joy, and sorrow. It is as if Walker morphed a Nicolas Sparks novel with a Shakespeare play and in doing so she wrote a novel that is as affecting to the reader as it to the residents of this "isolated college town." From the first page to the last page of The Dreamers I became disgruntled when I had to stop reading and set the book aside to sleep or take part in the responsibilities of everyday life. When I came to the end of the book, there was a deep longing for more. I look forward to reading more of Karen Thompson Walker's novels in the near future. Walker is an exceptional author and I give The Dreamers my strongest recommendation. I wish to thank Karen Thompson Walker, Random House and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review The Dreamers. D.B. Moone
“To sleep, perchance to dream” and dream and dream and dream..... Sometimes a book can force you into places you only take a moment to think about. At other times, a book can bring you to places where your brain engages thinking in many diverse directions long after the last word was read. The book, The Dreamers, was such a book that made you not only think but wonder about the very things that govern our being....the brain, the fear of illnesses, and the power of sleep and dreams. There is a virus that is plaguing a town. It is a sickness that causes one to fall into a deep sleep, not waking but suspended in a deep dream state, one from which you cannot wake. People succumb to the sickness, people die, and as the town and others rush to help, the town is quarantined and the people left wakeful deal and do what they can with those in deep sleep. Characters are presented and each one deals with the prospect of family and possibly themselves becoming one of the sleepers, the unwakeful, those who can’t deal with the needs of life and need the wakeful to tend them. Scary and frightening and yet a journey into the unknown world of our brain and what happens when we sleep, including the fear of never awakening, and the places we all venture to when life is precarious and death seems eventual. There were so many positives about this book. The writing was exquisite propelling the reader forward with mystifying detail designed to entice the reader to form their own opinions and draw their own path through the story. There were no easy answers, really no answers at all, and yet in just that aspect alone, the book shines. How one thinks of sleep, of death, of a journey between time and dimensions, this book will touch upon all that. Your thoughts about the concept of sleep, the fear of never returning to a life once lived, and the untouched potential of our brain are there for you to ponder. Reading this book with my book partner, Jan, made for an amazing experience. We both came away with many questions, few answers, but a reading experience that was enriching and ever so fulfilling. Thank you to Karen Thompson Walker, Random House Publishing, and NetGalley for a copy of this thought provoking novel.
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker is a very highly recommended unique, light science-fiction novel about a mysterious epidemic and a town placed under quarantine. The mysterious sleeping illness began on a college campus in Santa Lora, an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California. A freshman girl returns early to her dorm room and stumbles right into bed. When she is still asleep the next morning, her roommate, Mei, thinks nothing of it and leaves for the day. When she is still asleep that evening, the paramedics are called and she is hospitalized. Then another victim falls into a deep sleep and can't be woken up. At first the remaining students from that floor at the residents' hall are quarantined. Then as the disease begins to spread more rapidly, the whole town is placed under an enforced quarantine. The number of sleepers requiring care reaches 500 by 18th day. Most victims simply stay asleep, although some die. The dreamers must be cared for, which requires many medical professionals and volunteers. The victims seem to be actively dreaming, with increased brain activity, but why? From a few Dreamers who have woken up, we know they have vivid dreams that seem real. Some have lived whole lives, some feel no time has passed, others re-live memories, and some believe they have had premonitions of the future. The narrative changes perspective from one character to the next as the story unfolds. The characters are handled with compassion and a nuance that ties them all together while they experience the fear of an unfathomable epidemic and have no way to escape. Some of the characters include: Mei, a college student who was an outsider; a survivalist father and his 12 and 11 year-old daughters; a couple with a newborn baby; a biology professor; a college student dreamer who is pregnant; and a neuropsychiatrist trapped in town. Their emotions and fears are handled realistically with empathy and mercy. The Dreamers is simply exquisite. This is a skillfully written, breathtakingly beautiful novel that is also a page-turner, full of tension and uncertainty. I was glued to the pages and compulsively reading just one more chapter. The pacing is perfect and the transition between the diverse points-of-views keeps the suspense and tension rising as the narrative unfolds. Walker displays compassion to her characters as she follows their thoughts and actions while the unfathomable epidemic rages around them. I especially loved the details of the life beginning and developing in sleeping, but pregnant, Rebecca, and the resolution of this narrative thread. I read and loved Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles and I think I love The Dreamers even more. This is a novel that could provide book clubs with an abundance of discussion topics. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.
This read somewhat like an episode of the Twilight Zone, which isn't a dig, because I really love The Twilight Zone, it just put me in mind of a really great sci-fi tv script. A small college town finds itself at a center of an epidemic when some students at the college begin to fall asleep and not wake up, and then the town's residents begin to succumb to the same mysterious malady. I was satisfied with the ending, which isn't always the case when I read and watch sci-fi centric plots. To me that was a big plus!
4.5 Stars “Is all that we see or seem But a dream within a dream.” —A Dream Within A Dream, Edgar Allan Poe It begins at the college. A girl named Kara. A party. She leaves, not feeling well, thinking she is coming down with something, she is so very, very tired. She makes it back to her dorm room, and falls asleep in her clothes, her boots still on, so that when her roommate wakes up the next morning she finds her sound asleep. Not wanting to disturb her, Mei dresses quietly and leaves the room as soundlessly as possible. When Mei returns nine hours later, Kara is still asleep in bed, and Mei calls her name, again and again, but Kara does not respond. Not to Mei. Not to the paramedics who come. She’s oblivious to the sounds around her, the sounds of her six-week-new friends calling out to her as she is wheeled away on a stretcher. The sirens. The bumps along the road. The doctors trying to wake her. She sleeps through it all. This sickness moves through the dorm, and then spreads beyond the campus - slowly at first, insidiously. From an elderly man to the young, people begin to fall victim to this unnatural sleep, the hospital begins to fill up with people, alive but sleeping, dreaming unusually vivid dreams, the kind that would feel all too real – if only they would awaken. I wanted to read this as I had read Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles, her debut novel which was set in a dystopian near future. This is more science fiction mixed with fairy tale / fantasy fiction, perhaps, than dystopian, as these people succumb to sleep in a way that reminded me of watching Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Lion (and Toto, too) on their way to Oz and suddenly, one by one, all but the Tin Man succumb to the overwhelming need to sleep. Walker dips into the theories of Freud, Jung and others now and then in the ponderings and theories of the unfamiliar, unnatural dream state these people have entered into, which is shown by their unusual brain activity. At the same time she brings us into this world, the tenuous nature of this delicate, almost ethereal place these people find themselves in, the sleeping and those who are surrounded by the confines created by those sleeping. How this virus is spread, the response of those who are supposed to help and protect, the question of an allegiance to those we know and love vs. strangers, the fragility of life, these are among the provocative ideas and questions that are posed in this novel. Beautifully creative and subtly unsettling story of a community faced with a devastating threat, shared through gorgeous prose, and a story that keeps you turning pages through some unexpected twists, all the while loving every minute. Many thanks for the ARC provided by Random House Publishing Group – Random House