Summary and book reviews of The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

The Dreamers

by Karen Thompson Walker

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker X
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
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  • Published:
    Jan 2019, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Adrienne Pisch
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About this Book

Book Summary

An ordinary town is transformed by a mysterious illness that triggers perpetual sleep.

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?

Written in luminous prose, The Dreamers is a breathtaking and beautiful novel, startling and provocative, about the possibilities contained within a human life - in our waking days and, perhaps even more, in our dreams.

Chapter 1

At first, they blame the air.

It's an old idea, a poison in the ether, a danger carried in by the wind. A strange haze is seen drifting through town on that first night, the night the trouble begins. It arrives like weather, or like smoke, some say later, but no one can locate any fire. Some blame the drought, which has been bleeding away the lake for years, and browning the air with dust.

Whatever this is, it comes over them quietly: a sudden drowsiness, a closing of the eyes. Most of the victims are found in their beds.

But there are some who will tell you that this sickness is not entirely new, that its cousins have sometimes visited ours. In certain letters from earlier centuries, you may find the occasional reference' - ­decades apart' - ­to a strange kind of slumber, a mysterious, persistent sleep.

In 1935, two children went to bed in a Dust Bowl cabin and did not wake for nine days. Some similar contagion once crept through a Mexican village' - ­El Niente, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. A contagious disease, a quarantined town ' - the characters in The Dreamers are facing an extreme situation. Our culture is dominated by two opposing narratives about how people respond to disasters: Some believe they bring out the worst in people, others that they bring out the best. How do these possibilities play out in The Dreamers?
  2. What do you think of Matthew's character? Are his actions heroic or heartless? Selfless or self-aggrandizing? Or some combination? Is it ethical to privilege the lives of one's loved ones over the lives of strangers?
  3. How does The Dreamers differ from other books about disaster and dystopia? What does it have in common with those stories?
  4. Some of the sick dream of extraordinarily vivid alternate lives. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Dreamers has an interiority that makes it rise above categorization as a simple mystery. This is a story about people, about communities; it is much less about the disease than it is about the people the disease affects. The novel moved me and made me consider the questions it posed long after I turned the last page.   (Reviewed by Adrienne Pisch).

Full Review Members Only (986 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This is a skillful, complex, and thoroughly satisfying novel about a community in peril.

Library Journal
Starred Review. [Walker] offers up a satisfying, suspenseful page-turner that leaves readers curious about the possibility of dreams...Recommended enthusiastically.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. What is the nature of an epidemic? What is the nature of consciousness? What mix of loyalty and love binds individuals together? These are a few of the questions Walker raises in her provocative, hypnotic tale

Author Blurb Karen Russell, author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove: And Other Stories
Frighteningly powerful, beautiful, and uncanny, The Dreamers is a love story and also a horror story - a symphonic achievement, alternating intimate moments with a panoramic capture of a crisis in progress.

Author Blurb Marisha Pessl, author of Night Film
A modern Midsummer Night's Dream

Author Blurb Robin Black, author of Life Drawing
What a book! I read The Dreamers in a dream of sorts myself, entirely transported into Karen Thompson Walker's world of mysterious tragedy and infinite, if unexpected, compassion. This is a profound novel, and a deeply moving one...fortunate readers will celebrate this extraordinary book.

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Beyond the Book

What We Know, and Don't Know, About Sleep

Sample EEG depicting brain waves during the different sleep cyclesIn The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker, an illness is spreading that causes everyone infected to go into a deep sleep with heightened brain activity that is suggestive of dreaming. Sleep and dreams are central to the novel, but there is a lot we don't know about both.

Different stages of sleep can be assessed through the use of an electroencephalograph (EEG) to measure different types of brainwaves. These waves are composed of electrical pulses synchronized across the brain's neurons, and they are differentiated by frequency of the pulses (measured in Hertz; cycles per second). Higher frequencies correspond to higher levels of alertness, while lower frequencies correspond to the deepest levels of sleep.

While sources vary on the ...

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