“The things that could have happened but did not are just as crucial to a life as all the things that do.” CBR11 Review 13.

UnknownThis is the second book by Karen Thompson Walker (the first being The Age of Miracles), whereupon finishing the book, I was unsure how I felt and needed to sit with the story for a while. With TAOM, there was a lot to like — interesting premise, selfish tween narrator, fascinating vignettes of the day to day life that we take advantage of — but I always felt that maybe the book was a bit too much like “literary fiction” to be believed as the words and thoughts of a middle schooler.

The Dreamers has much the same feeling. I liked the plot and the vignettes, but something about it was simply too literary for me to give it a five star rating.

In a small, remote California college town, students in a dorm start falling asleep, one by one, and they do not wake up. Kids are quarantined, classes are cancelled, parents are called, but the town and the school do not do a tremendous job of making sure that whatever this sleeping virus might be, that it won’t be spread to the general public.

Soon, the bulk of the town is asleep, connected to IVs and heart monitors under large tents on the college grounds. Kids are left to fend for themselves, there are riots at the grocery store, and the National Guard is brought it to keep the peace. But we don’t know what the virus is, why it came to this small town, or what happens to the ill while they are asleep, other than the fact that they are dreaming.

As the victims start to wake up, they have a hard time getting back to their regular lives. Some claim that they dreamt of the past. Some claim they had detailed dreams of the future. A patient with Alzheimer’s had a sudden burst of clarity. A young woman refused to accept that the son she dreamed of did not actually exist, and mourned for him upon waking up. The virus affected them all differently, but none of them will ever forget the dreams. Their vivid dreams and their realities will battle constantly in their minds for the rest of their lives.

The story was fascinating. I liked the idea of all of these different narrators from different walks of life — a professor, a new father, a middle schooler, a quiet college freshman — and the unique ways that the virus changed their lives and how they dealt with it.

What didn’t quite work for me was the writing style. If this were a Stephen King book, the descriptions of the town and all of its inhabitants would seem realistic to me. He thrives with small towns and the strange people who live in them, and seems to be able to give each character a unique voice. My problem here was that all of the characters seemed to share one voice. Other than by reading about their actions and seeing their names, it was hard to tell one character from another. Again, its just that “literary fiction” feeling that I can’t get past.

My quibble is a small one. I still really enjoyed this book and didn’t want to put it down. And I’ll keep reading whatever Karen Thompson Walker writes about. I just wish it had a slightly looser feel to it.


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