Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

sleep donation

Summer is slowly creeping its head out and isn’t it time to put the old dusty tomes away and reach for something fun? (The answer is yes, by the way). A new publisher called Atavist Books just released Karen Russell’s newest novella, Sleep Donation. This publisher seems a little different and Russell’s book is its inaugural release. There’s an interesting article in PW about Atavist Books.

Known for her mingling of magical realism in her fiction, Karen Russell doesn’t disappoint as she tries her hand at a story that is toeing the line with sci-fi. We’re somewhere in the near future where an international Insomnia Crisis is widespread. People are literally going out of their minds as their weary eyes might potentially pop out of their heads. At first, I definitely got a sense that here is a metaphor for our over-worked, under-rested, highly anxious society addicted to the various lit screen devices that are available, but it’s more than just that. It’s really a story and one that is gripping.

We can see a little bit of our own world in the plot, but Russell sprinkles in lovely detail. As the insomnia crisis spirals out of control, healthy sleepers are asked to donate their sleep for the afflicted. Similarly to donating blood, they are given a questionnaire to fill out and tick off if they have experienced any of the “contagious nightmares”:

Abomination, horned
Ambulance, frozen yellow siren
Anthill, no queen
Ants, flesh-eating

I was waiting to read my repetitive nightmare–teeth following out–alas, that didn’t make the abbreviated list. It is with these details that make the novella so bold and in Karen Russell style, the humor is still held even when the terrible is running rampant. I briefly mentioned this novella in last week’s post: An Amateur’s Field Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Although, the sleepless are not explicitly labelled “zombies,” I kept having the image of gaunt half-humans with their eyes sunken in with an unquenchable thirst for brains sleep.

Sleep Donation was such a fun read. I’m looking forward to future publications from Atavist Books (they plan to publish one book a month). The novella was priced just right too ($3.99), so you can’t go wrong. Time to get a hop on the summer fun.



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