cover image Sleep Donation

Sleep Donation

Karen Russell. Atavist Books, $3.99 e-book (110p) ISBN 978-1-937894-28-3

In 2013 Macarthur Fellow Russell's (Swamplandia!) speculative novella, a mysterious "insomnia epidemic" has become a national concern, generating 24/7 news coverage, as well as ubiquitous "Night Worlds" and sleep wards. Fortunately, a technology has also been developed whereby machines can siphon healthy sleep from donators for transfer to those in need. Trish Edgewater, Pennsylvania-based Slumber Corps' oldest and most valued volunteer, uses her deceased sister Dori's story of "terminal insomnia" to frighten potential donors into offering up their contributions. Her top recruit is the glorified Baby A, the infant daughter of Felix and Justine Harkonnen. Both parents have granted the necessary signatory consent, but Felix makes it known that he opposes his daughter's copious donations while Justine insists that it is an honorable concession. When the "sleep blend" supply is contaminated by the nightmare sleep of Donor Y, matters are complicated even further for the Corps. People become increasingly afraid to donate, and many of those who have contracted the nightmare turn into "elective insomniacs" as Donor Y's nightmare is so hard to bear that it leads some to suicide. The story raises questions of ethical conduct, personal responsibility, and free will as Trish begins to second-guess her own "pitch" methods and discovers that her bosses, former CEOs Jim and Rudy Storch, have been outsourcing sleep on the black market. Trish is left to figure out whether or not to blow the whistle on her employers, and whether the consequences of such actions are worth it. Narrated by Trish, the book succeeds in conveying her internal conflict, but the short length leaves a number of questions unexplored, including the motives and background of the supporting characters. As a whole, the story fails to shed much light on the world around Trish, making this novella somewhat hollow. (Mar.)