The Dreamers (Walker)

The Dreamers 
Karen Thompson Walker, 2019
Random House
320 pp.

An ordinary town is transformed by a mysterious illness that triggers perpetual sleep in this mesmerizing novel from the bestselling author of The Age of Miracles.

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—if only we are awakened to them. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Raised—San Diego, California, USA
Education—B.A., University of California, Los Angeles; M.F.A., Columbia University
Currently—lives in Portland, Oregon

Karen Thompson Walker was born and raised in San Diego, California. She is a graduate of UCLA and the Columbia MFA program. In 2011 she received Sirenland Fellowship, as well as a Bomb magazine fiction prize.

A former editor at Simon & Schuster, she wrote The Age of Miracles in the mornings before work. Her debut was published in 2012. Her second novel, The Dreamers came out in 2019.

Walker lives with her husband, the novelist Casey Walker, and their two daughters in Portland, Oregon. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon. (Adapated from the publisher.)

Book Reviews
(Starred Review) [R]ichly imaginative and quietly devastating.… Walker jolts the narrative with surprising twists, ensuring it keeps its energy until the end. This is a skillful, complex, and thoroughly satisfying novel about a community in peril.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred Review) [A] science-fiction fairy tale about a mysterious epidemic putting [people] to sleep.… What is the nature of consciousness. What mix of loyalty and love binds individuals…: a few of the questions Walker raises in her provocative, hypnotic tale.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
 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. Consider Rebecca, who dreams of an entire lifetime, including a son. Do you think her dreamed-of life is somehow real? Or just a delusion? What about Nathaniel’s extended dream of Henry?

5. Why do you think Karen Thompson Walker chose to feature a large cast of characters instead of focusing on just one person’s experience? How did this choice affect your reading of the book? Did one character resonate with you more than the others?

6. One of the main characters is a college freshman named Mei. How would you describe her personality? How does she change over the course of the novel?

7. The Dreamers includes many parent/child relationships. What do you think of the book’s portrayal of these bonds? How does the crisis affect these relationships?

8. The Dreamers involves a fictitious disease in a fictitious town, but what parallels do you see in today’s real world? How do you think the government would respond to a situation like this if it happened today?

9. How do you feel about the ending of the book? How do you imagine the lives of the surviving characters will look five years into the future? How do you think their experiences during the outbreak will affect the rest of their lives?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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