AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Are you getting enough sleep? Well, the characters in Karen Russell's new novella are not. The book is called "Sleep Donation." It is set in a terrible future. Insomnia is a national crisis. An agency called Slumber Corps has been established to help.
Author Alex Gilvarry has a review.
ALEX GILVARRY, BYLINE: The heroine of this story is Trish Edgewater. She's a leading recruiter at Slumber Corps, where she uses the story of her own personal tragedy as part of her pitch to donors. Trish's sister was an insomniac who died from the disease. But Slumber Corps has found a Band-Aid for the problem. They take sleep donations from willing people and give transfusions to insomniacs. Just like giving blood, it's done out of a van. All this comes to us from the mind of Karen Russell. She's one of the best, most fantastical fiction writers around. This book is her fourth. It's an e-novella being released by a new publisher called Atavist Books. It's a quick, topsy-turvy thriller that extends her usual style into Orwellian territory.
Trish's relentlessness in the field leads her to the door of Mr. and Mrs. Harkonnen, the parents of Baby A. It's good timing. The national sleep bank is about to be infected with a nightmare. Tainted samples spread on the black market. It becomes a lethal epidemic. But it turns out that Baby A's sleep can help.
Dystopian novels are all about our current fears, different ways life as we know it could end. Although this story never really becomes a true drama, it's full of sharp, witty insights into what those fears are: government meddling in our personal lives, consumer culture, the value of rest - they all come into play here.
As the sleep crisis gets worse, some of the plot turns start to feel a bit forced. Like a Slumber Corps executive who embezzles sleep, which Trish uncovers a little too conveniently. And then there are some chapters that feel too short. They're supposed to make you feel something within the blankness of the page, only they fall flat compared to Russell's full-bodied scenes. But by the end of this nightmarish dystopia, Russell has shown off her ability to balance the quirky and the absurd with psychological awareness. She turns this unbelievable world into something more than dream-like.
SIEGEL: The book is "Sleep Donation" by Karen Russell. It was reviewed by Alex Gilvarry. His latest book is called "From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant."