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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sleep Donation: A Novella

Full disclosure: I adore Karen Russell. I found out Sleep Donation was being released yesterday and I clamored to get my hands on it. Trust me--it was worth it.

A disease has struck the world, one of insomnia that finds its recipients unable to sleep. It costs lives and breaks down its carriers. A cure has been found--sleep donation. The Slumber Corps is a nonprofit facilitating this need, and Trish is their best donor recruiter. She lost her sister to the disease early in the outbreak. When she discovers that which was never meant to find, her faith in her work is shattered and she must choose between keeping quiet to serve the greater good and listening to her moral voice.

I was sold on this novella just a few pages in. The thing about Russell is that she doesn't wow you with thunderous events or grab you with outlandish writing; she is the master of subtle storytelling in that you are reading, reading, reading, and all of the sudden you have discovered it's three in the morning but don't stop now because you can be finished by daybreak. She tells her stories the way that heat technology works in your super thin winter coat--it seems thin and you question whether or not it will make an impact, then at the end of the day you are stunned to find you didn't even realize how amazingly warm and comfy you have been for hours. I get lost in Russell's writing, so much to the point that I whip through her books the way I can drink a glass of cool and crisp white wine, not even noticing that the glass is finished but yes I would like another, please.

This book was almost flawless to the point that it was so very real and frightening. The idea of staying awake for long periods of time is at first appealing. (I am a grad student--I could get so much done.) Then you hear her descriptions of what happens to the body and to the mind after time and it is horrifying, frightening, and stirring to the point that even I would volunteer my own sleep to help others. All of this is told in such an attenuated way that it creeps up on you like a silent cat in the dark.

It doesn't take long to feel deeply for Trish and to understand her unwavering and almost cult-like devotion to her work. I started to question her choices with her, and I wanted to be with her when she discovered who exactly the Baby A universal donor was. As she deals with the devoted mother and the reluctant father, each of whom has a clear motive in supporting or opposing the unrelenting donations needed from their child. Trish, though, was the main character but was also a vessel through which the story needed to be told. She was conflicted about her discovery, and I don't doubt that most of us know that feeling--finding out that the person you thought was doing the most good is just like everyone else, greedy and slightly dishonest. The pathos and ethos of Trish was incredible. This book stunned me--you should have it stun you.

My review of Swamplandia is here

Kindle version available below.

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