This was a really enjoyable quick read. I’ve never read anything by Karen Russell – her other works didn’t appeal to me (until now). But once I heard about this book through a Buzzfeed article a few months ago, I was intrigued. Sleep Donation occurs in the not so distant future where a large portion of the population is infected with orexin – a deadly form of insomnia. It turns out that fatal familial insomnia is a similar disease that actually exists (click here to learn more about it). The victims in Sleep Donation are unable to sleep at all for days on end and eventually die of some type of organ failure. The concept itself was interesting to me (I was one of those teenagers who had A LOT of trouble sleeping). To combat this disease people who have normal sleep patterns can “donate” hours of their sleep to the sleep-deprived. The novella explores transactions between people: if such a personal thing as sleep and dreams become a transaction, do all other exchanges become transactions? In addition, the story features the politics surrounding the not-for-profit company which provides donated sleep to those with orexin. Russell sprinkles the plot with some light humor which, in addition to actually being funny, reminds the reader to keep the story in perspective.
This novella is only available digitally – an ironic circumstance which I’m sure Russell decided to play with in relation to the book’s subject matter (many people believe digital screens impair sleep quality). It also has the coolest book website I’ve ever seen. It includes a trailer, a “nightmare index,” a survey on the purity of your sleep, and it allows the user to “donate” sleep. On a separate note, I absolutely love this cover. It immediately grabbed my attention as soon as I saw it, even before I read the first word from that Buzzfeed article. If this novella’s subject matter interests you in the slightest, I recommend it.
Title: Sleep Donation
Author: Karen Russell
Publisher, year: Atavist Books, 2014
Chic rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆