Karen Russell is crazy creative and can write like a house afire. Sleep Donation's premise is that there's a new epidemic sweeping America: People who can no longer sleep. As in, not just sleep badly, or not sleep enough, but not at all--a serious health (physical and mental) risk. Scientists have found a way to extract sleep from healthy people, although the long-term risks of that procedure aren't clear.
Trish Edgewater is a sleep donation recruiter for Slumber Corps, and she's especially good at her job: her sister Dori was one of the first to die. But there are unexpected challenges looming for her, both internally at the Corps and in the greater world outside.
Along the way, Trish visits Night World, a ghastly kind of theme park made up of people who want to sleep but can't, and those who--for their own reasons, which are made clear--don't want to sleep at all. Snake-oil remedies are sold at outrageous prices, and the desperate flock there. It's a world Russell makes all too vivid and frightening.
But the plot--sigh. It just sort of builds up, and then--nothing. An abrupt ending. I had a similar disappointment with her previous novel, Swamplandia, which I thought started strong, and then just fell apart. It's especially frustrating in that I love her writing, enough to finish a book that I began to lose confidence in halfway through. Look at this wonderful description:
"Lawns are covered with many octaves of weeds, shading from crud brown to yellowy beige, and even the leafy trees seem to me to have too many limbs, mutating away from the rooftops in a silent, wild freedom. Several bikes knock around on their chains, an eerily genial sound, as if the machines are gossiping."
It's a short book, a novella, and mostly I'm glad I stuck with it. I'm interested in the series it comes from, from The Atavist. And I'll read Russell's next work, but with trepidation.
My thanks to the publisher for the free review copy I received via NetGalley.