By Karen Thompson Walker
Random House Trade Paperbacks, 9780812984668, November 2019, 336pp.
The Short of It:
This book originally came out in January 2019, way before our own pandemic hit and yet, the pandemic detailed in this story could have been taken right out of the headlines of today, minus the sleeping illness, of course.
The Rest of It:
The story takes place in the fictional town of Santa Lora, California. Santa Lora is a sleepy little college town (pun intended). Many of its residents work at the local university or at the very least know someone who goes there. In the dorms one day, Mei notices that her roommate is still sleeping although morning has come and gone. Her attempts to wake her are futile. The girl will not wake.
In another part of town, people are falling asleep where they are whether that is in the middle of a jog or walking the family dog. As more and more victims are discovered, the government is called in along with several medical professionals to determine what is actually happening. Is it psychological? Is the water contaminated?
As the story unfolds and the situation becomes more dire, Walker introduces us to the survivors as well as those who will eventually succumb to the sickness. What does it all mean? Why do some wake and others don’t and why are they different after surviving?
So much of this story resonates with me, given the pandemic that we are currently living with. The way the sickness spreads, the lack of understanding in the early days of the sickness, the conspiracy theories hinting at government control. The true winner here is the way Walker plays with dreams and memory. Some of the survivors remember vivid dreams that they had while sleeping. Some feel they are premonitions of the future, others believe they are memories from the past. What’s real anyway?
There are a lot of characters but they are all so distinct and their situations unique enough where I never felt confused over who was who or what was going on. It’s very well done. I cared enough about each of them to worry about their survival and that says a lot.
If you can tolerate a book about a pandemic, and I must say a sleeping sickness sounds a lot better than what we are dealing with now, then pick it up. Someone on FB said that when they read fiction now, they feel uncomfortable when reading about gatherings without masks and the like since they are so conditioned now to meet safely. Well, you won’t have that issue here because masks are the norm in this story.
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher.
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