March 21, 2014 12:00 AM

Sleep grows elusive in Karen Russell’s new, nightmarish novella

Like many of the bizarre scenarios Karen Russell imagines in her fiction — an afterlife in which former U.S. presidents are transformed into horses, say, or a chilling government plot to turn young women into human silkworms — the premise in her allegorical new novella is unsettling. But this time the nightmare hits closer to home. In Sleep Donation, set in a dystopian near future, a lethal plague of insomnia is spreading through the overstimulated, anxious population, leaving thousands of Americans unable to dream or sleep. They’re desperate for an REM cycle to stave off death, but there are few cures for their peculiar wakefulness.

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