The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker was provided to me as an advanced digital review copy by Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley.
Many novels like to explore the aftermath of a pandemic or a natural disaster, often from the point in time where everything normal takes a hard right onto survival street. The tension is in the survival, the alliances, whether or not a decision will turn out okay or spell disaster for the decider.
I would argue that true tension lies in the onset of a disaster: patients zero-ten, the 10-day weather forecast, the detection of the distant meteor – and watch ’em scramble like eggs in a pan. Is there enough water? Can we get out of town? Can we defend ourselves? Have I been exposed? Oh man yes, this is the thriller I ordered, now don’t forget to refill my breadbasket.
I have never read a normal length book this fast. From the moment the girls in the dorm start falling and staying asleep I was locked into this story to find out how far the sickness would spread, whether it would be contained, and how it would all turn out. Babies, adults, children, college professors, all will fall to the airborne virus that makes you fall asleep and dream really fucked up dreams that might be windows into the past, reflections of the present or *gasp* predictions of actual or alternate futures.
The best part of the book is when the sickness is spreading and you don’t know how far it will spread or whether the people infected will ever wake up. They are all alive and dreaming, and they keep flying in people to help take care of all these sleeping people, and those volunteers then fall victim to the sickness. I was shocked/not shocked at how long it took them to accept the reality that something was wrong and lock that town down. Kids were trick or treating even after many people had already fallen ill. WOW.
Which leads me to my major critique, which is that all this build up leads…nowhere. I was on the edge of my seat, until I wasn’t. The crisis builds and builds, but then there is very little payoff for it. A few people die, but for the most part everything goes back to normal with some psychological after affects for the dreamers to deal with. Oh, their dreams were so real that it was like they lived another life so they were sad when they woke up and found that they had a different life? BOO HOO PUT ON YOUR BIG GIRL PANTS – that’s what waking up every day is like. The ‘getting to sleep for three weeks’ part of it all is a fucking benefit if you ask me. Sign me up for the sleeping plague.
You should read this book. The escalation was enjoyable enough reason to do it, just know that you’ll feel just a little empty at the end because your thirst for disaster and suffering will not have been quenched. I’m not sure how that’s possible in 2019, but Karen Thompson Walker has achieved it.
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