25 March 2014

Sleep Donation

Summary from Goodreads:
From the author of the New York Times bestseller Swamplandia!, and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, an imaginative and haunting novella about an insomnia epidemic set in the near future.

A crisis has swept America. Hundreds of thousands have lost the ability to sleep. Enter the Slumber Corps, an organization that urges healthy dreamers to donate sleep to an insomniac. Under the wealthy and enigmatic Storch brothers the Corps' reach has grown, with outposts in every major US city. Trish Edgewater, whose sister Dori was one of the first victims of the lethal insomnia, has spent the past seven years recruiting for the Corps. But Trish’s faith in the organization and in her own motives begins to falter when she is confronted by “Baby A,” the first universal sleep donor, and the mysterious "Donor Y."

Sleep Donation explores a world facing the end of sleep as we know it, where “Night Worlds” offer black market remedies to the desperate and sleep deprived, and where even the act of making a gift is not as simple as it appears.

I keep meaning to read Karen Russell.  Off-kilter short stories?  Yes, please.  But something always gets in the way.  So I jumped at the chance to request at DRC of her new digital-only novella, Sleep Donation, which is the first offering from the new Atavist Books division of The Atavist.

In the near-future United States, insomnia has become epidemic.  Trish works as a recruiter for the non-profit organization Slumber Corps - she works to recruit good sleepers to donate sleep, particularly young children who have sleep that is considered to have fewer impurities.  Her biggest find has been Baby A, an infant with sleep so pure that she is a Universal Sleep Donor, one of the only ones.  What makes Trish so effective as a recruiter is that her sister Dori was one of the first fatalities of the insomnia epidemic - when Trish talks about her sister, she is still able to tap into that well of grief, the idea that even a single hour of good sleep could have saved Dori's life.  The Slumber Corps and other donation networks are like a house of cards and a single, insignificant act brings the entire construction down. 

The most compelling aspect of Sleep Donation is Russell's use of contaigion-ized disordered sleep.  Those of us in the epidemiology/infectious diseases world will recognize the use of prion hypothesis, the theory that infectious proteins are responsible for transmissible bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Creuzfeld-Jakob disease, kuru, and the real-life (but extremely rare) disease fatal familial insomnia.  No joking - the insomnia epidemic is a "what if" situation that seems dangerously possible.  Mixed with this set-up are comparisons to the ethics and issues of the blood and blood products donation/commerce industry (for those who might be interested, Douglas Starr's book Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce provides an overview of the benefits and pitfalls of the rise of blood banking). 

Russell packs so much into just 120 pages.  Is it ethical for someone to use a personal tragedy for personal gain, no matter how selfless?  And is it healthy to keep that wound fresh for that reason?  What are the responsibilities of a non-profit?  And when does it become necessary to air the dirty laundry?

Sleep Donation is available from the major e-retailers.  It's a great introduction to the Atavist Books line.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.

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