By Karen Thompson Walker
Published January 15, 2019 by Random House
I picked up this book in the early evening, and next thing I knew, I was up way past my bedtime, because it’s a really engrossing read and I couldn’t put it down.
In a California college town, a student goes to sleep and doesn’t wake up. It seems to be a medical mystery, but then other students and residents of the town begin to fall asleep and it’s clear that an epidemic is happening. The patients appear to be comatose, but show highly active dream levels.
The Dreamers is a gripping book that reminded me a little of Station Eleven, in that it’s a look at how multiple characters deal with an epidemic. But this epidemic is on a smaller scale. It’s devastating to the town of Santa Lora, but the town is quickly sealed off from the rest of the country, to keep the illness from spreading. We see how the epidemic and the accompanying panic affect different people: a college freshman who was foundering at school but finds a purpose in the epidemic, a young couple with a newborn baby trying desperately to protect her, a psychiatrist brought in to consult on the epidemic who is trapped in the town away from her young child, a professor mourning the loss of his partner to Alzheimer’s, and two young sisters, the children of a paranoid survivalist who has succumbed to the sickness.
The omniscient narration moves among these characters (and a few others we meet only briefly), and we see how they deal with the epidemic. I found all of the characters interesting, but I was most interested in the couple with the baby. As the parent of a young child, I often wonder how I would handle a natural disaster/the end of the world/a terrorist attack, so I felt a connection to their struggles.
This is not a book for readers who like things tied up in neat packages. The epidemic is never described in specific, scientific terms. The nature of the dreams is explored, but you’re never quite sure what’s real or what the dreams mean. It’s a beautifully written look at how people cope with the unthinkable. I give it five stars.
I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.