Karen Thompson Walker Explores the Meaning of Reality in ‘The Dreamers’

Title: The Dreamers
Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Length: 303 p
Publishing Date15 January 2019

Whatever this is, it comes over them quietly: a sudden drowsiness, a closing of the eyes.

Karen Thompson Walker, The Dreamers

When a college freshman in Southern California starts to feel sick, she assumes she has the flu. She ends up being the first patient to come down with a strange illness that puts victims into a deep, dream-filled sleep. She becomes the first of The Dreamers. Quiet explosions of panic erupt through the community as misinformation about the disease spreads almost as fast as the disease itself. Trapped in a small town, quarantined off from the rest of civilization, an ever-shifting point-of-view offers glimpses into the multiple ways anything — everything from dreams to reality — can be interpreted.

Initially, I was pulled into The Dreamers because of its concept. 2019 was a year of a lot of amazing new dystopian fiction and Karen Thompson Walker’s addition was the most terrifying because it felt the most real. A sudden wave of strange illness overtaking a community, not unlike a natural disaster that forces people to really explore what life and death mean to them. And perhaps it’s that exploration that makes some of the younger characters of the book the most interesting, given their lack of life experience. So much of everyone’s depends not just on luck, but on being able to tap into instincts built into their DNA. Of understanding that they want to survive, that reality is better than dreaming.

It is hard to say afterward why the final beats of her heart go unrecorded by those machines.

Karen Thompson Walker, The Dreamers

What The Dreamers provided was a complex, thought-provoking meal of a winter read. Heavy with possible consequences of climate destruction, the dystopian scenario Thompson Walker crafts isn’t too hard to imagine. The Dreamers is a perfect weekend read for fans of Station Eleven.

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