Karen Thompson Walker Sees the Possibility of the Impossible

Courtesy of Publishers Weekly
Posted Nov 16, 2018

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Sleep, the holy grail of the new (or, in this case, repeat) parent, is the subject, in a way, of Karen Thompson Walker’s haunting, hypnotic second novel. The Dreamers (Random House, Jan. 2019) takes place in the fictional Southern California mountain town of Santa Lora, where a sickness descends one evening in early fall. A first-year student at the local college leaves a party, goes to bed, and then doesn’t wake up; a few days later, she’s dead. Soon after, another girl falls asleep. She doesn’t die, but nor can she be roused. Though the college attempts to quarantine the students, the sickness spreads, first among the residents of a dorm and then outward: to the janitor who cleaned their rooms, to a clerk at a convenience store, a backpacker, and a young bride, and soon to the doctors and nurses caring for the sick teens, who sleep “like children, mouths open, cheeks flushed. Breathing as rhythmic as swells on the sea.”

As if the creep of a mysterious sleeping sickness weren’t eerie enough, the world around Santa Lora seems to shimmer and vibrate with threat. The mountain lake is vanishing, the region is prone to earthquakes and landslides, and the forest is “fertile for fire.” As Walker’s compassionate, omniscient narrator asks, “What if misfortune can be drawn to a place, like lightning to a rod?” Keep Reading…