The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (NetGalley Review)

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Publisher: Random House (January 15, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
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?

This book had me riveted from the first page and didn't let up until the final one. The premise of this story is so arresting, and in Walker's hands, it is transcendent. Her prose is lovely and straightforward, evoking a multitude of emotions. Early in the book, I was reminded of what it was like to be in high school getting a call from a boy, a girl in a coed college dorm, and most strongly what it was like to be a new parent. 
"Here is what he has learned about loving a baby: the time away from her is vital to the pleasure of being with her."
As the unthinkable events of this sleep plague unfold, various scenarios play out as through a prism with each character in a separate facet of life: the two school age girls stranded alone, the college students, the parents, and an elderly professor. There is so much to unpack about what gives our lives meaning at different stages in life, how love can mean something different for every individual, and many ethical dilemmas. I loved how she took a contagion story to illustrate the bonds between individuals and communities. I also cannot stop thinking about the concept of time, of our wakeful vs. dreaming life. How can we truly know which is real, what is the construct of time but a human invention?  
"Some dreamed of their youth. Some dreamed of old age. Some dreamed of days that might have been - all the lives they did not live. Or the lives that, in some other world, they did."
Oftentimes I was reminded of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, though it is much less harrowing. Yet there are similarly sweet and poignant moments alongside an unrelentingly ominous backdrop, and constant jaw dropping plot twists. I can't say enough about how much I admired, and was enchanted by, this novel.  
Many thanks to the folks at Random House and NetGalley for a complimentary digital copy in exchange for my honest review!


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