In this novel, Ms. Russell creates a new illness. She describes its hold over a futuristic America with Twilight Zone-like inventiveness and the energy and brio of a natural fantasist with a proclivity for blending the real and surreal, the psychological and the sci-fi ... she immerses the reader in a world that is both recognizably familiar and nightmarishly dystopian. The novella becomes, at once, a kind of meditation upon the transmission of stories and dreams (something that books, paper or digital, do with magical ease), and an allegory about our overstimulated, sleep-deprived society and the sometimes self-serving sanctimony of NGOs and manic do-gooders, reluctant ever to let a crisis go to waste ... Preposterous as some aspects of her story may sound, Ms. Russell writes with such assurance and speed that she puts the reader under a spell for the duration of her story. She creates a fully imagined world with its own rituals and rules, and deftly satirizes the media and governmental responses to the plague of sleeplessness ... Ms. Russell’s account of sleepless patients and stolen sleep may not possess the fierce originality of her 2011 novel, Swamplandia!, or the cumulative power of her story collections...but it’s another testament to her fertile powers of invention.
Sleep Donation makes a turn into dark, murky territory where events become decidedly more horror-filled and morally fraught ... It recalls the World of Darkness amusement park in Swamplandia, as well as some futurized Ray Bradbury realm. What's so unique about Russell's style is that even when her stories take the inevitable plunge into frightful territory, she retains an inventive, vivid, almost buoyant way with words ... Despite unmistakable strains of allegory—here, for example, sleep trouble could be a metaphor for our oil dependency—Russell's narratives never venture into thinly veiled manifestoes. Russell would never be that obvious, and Sleep Donation further proves how fundamental her writing has become. If you're a fan of contemporary voices but haven't encountered hers yet, wake up already.
... lush sentences and speculative wit ... it is signature Russell: a fanciful, droll, elaborately thought-through allegory with a dark center. (People don’t always credit how grim this author can be, but to read Russell is to realize that you can have invention without joy.) ... Not that you will be reading Sleep Donation for the plot or even for the themes. You will be reading it for the pleasure of Russell’s language, which is acrid, luminous, and deft, and for the way she confuses the ordinary and the marvelous. She is a special kind of magical realist in that she is wholly committed to both registers ... Russell has diagnosed something elemental about the way we grasp for things we may or may not want ... matter-of-factness becomes an asset, heightening the weirdness by contrast and acquainting us with our readerly situation: bizarro world, level-headed and trustworthy narrator. In the magical realism of our own lives, that’s sort of how we see ourselves.
Russell's novella is a quick, topsy-turvy thriller, that extends her oeuvre into Orwellian territory ... Although Russell's foreboding never really equates to true drama, it's her sharp, witty insights that elevate Sleep Donation ... As the story catapults into peril, some of the plot turns feel a tad forced ... And then there are some chapters that are far too short, sometimes just a sentence or a few lines of dialog, meant to illuminate a feeling within the blankness of a page. Rather than evoke any emotional response, they fall flat compared to Russell's full-bodied scenes. But by the end of this nightmarish dystopia, as Trish is taken to her wit's end on behalf of the sleepless, it's Russell's ability to balance the quirky and the absurd with psychological acumen that turns this unbelievable world into something more than dreamlike.
Step back from this story and it seems absurd. But Russell's gift is to provide deep immersion in the details, and in Trish's haunting, urgent emotions. It's easy to ignore the wider picture in favour of a series of wonderful moments ... Swirling around this rich imaginative world are sinister hints of conspiracy and exploitation ... Russell offsets this expertly-induced unease with humour and wry social commentary ... It isn't always subtle. By the time Trish is lecturing on mining shale gas and environmental exploitation it even starts to feel finger-waggy, but that's a small price to pay for such enjoyable and effectively-realised speculative fiction.
Russell excels at creating solitary, profoundly-damaged female narrators who are singularly-focused ... Readers who delight in the more peculiar and surreal will enjoy the sequence that takes place in one of the 'Night Worlds,' a camp on the outskirts of town. The place has a seedy, underbelly vibe; it’s where orexins gather to indulge in black market remedies. Trish visits and shells out for a drink, even though she’s not afflicted, and is offered a plot of dirt to fall asleep on. At a price, of course. The reader is suddenly jerked out of the fantastical surroundings we’ve been immersed in and faced with Trish’s straightforward opinion ... That’s precisely what makes Russell’s brand of magical realism so effective ... the tone and language in Sleep Donation is so deliberate and well-crafted that it provides a framework for any and all things outlandish. The reader is guided along by prose so intimately conversational and frank that we feel for Trish, taking her opinions to heart; and find even the most otherworldly parts of the storyline entirely plausible. In Sleep Donation, Russell once again proves herself to be a master storyteller: she is the type of author who can effortlessly convince readers to suspend our disbelief and invest in a character in a way that many of us haven’t done since we were children listening to a bedtime story.
At the end of Russell’s short stories I often find myself craving a few (or, a hundred) more pages. The novella is a fitting form for her imagination. Though, honestly, I still wanted Sleep Donation to be even longer (at the end, I thought: and then what happened?). This is as much a testament to the complete and compelling world created here as anything ... As Russell’s early story laments, we may be alone in our dreams, but as Sleep Donation shows us, we are useless without them.
It is easy to get so taken by Russell’s spooky-accurate description of what lack of sleep can do to a body, and a country, that Sleep Donation starts to feel like speculative journalism. There’s far more to this slim book, though ... Though Russell meticulously describes the intricacies of the epidemic and the protocol for donating sleep, she stops short of detailing what, exactly, is being taken from a donor ... The sense of impending annihilation pulses throughout the book; insomniacs describe the final throes of their condition as their Last Day, evoking religious cults and doomsday prophecies. At the same time, Russell leavens the apocalyptic with the familiar. The homeyness of the details...keeps the story grounded in reality ... In many ways, the entire novella functions as a sort of twisted bedtime story, something children might tell each other to scare themselves into staying awake.
... wonderful ... Sleep Donation is her most cutting lens yet. In its pages, Russell meditates on how market worship has warped health care; she shows America’s desire to plunder resources leading back to our final resource, our bodies; and most impressively, she traces the fine, cracked line that divides what is genuine from what is synthetic ... Russell’s description of this process is less impressive than how she evokes the burlesque Trish does to secure donors ... Sleep Donation glows with eerie-fine phrases ... Russell has a keen sense of dramatic timing and an even sharper ability to turn an internal state into its own weather system.
Karen Russell's Sleep Donation is a tightly written novella that explores the 'hydrology of human generosity' in the wake of an epidemic of insomnia ... Russell's prose is both rich and taut. A less talented writer could have stretched this story arc to a full-length novel. I'm always grateful when a writer presents a fictional world, characters, and authorial themes with concision and style—a single malt, rather than a generic blend ... Occasionally in passages of dialogue it's unclear who is speaking but I decided against pedantry. My only gripe is that in the novella’s closing pages the tone slips into preachiness as though Russell wants to ram home a whole bunch of messages. I feel the author's voice intrudes too far. By contrast, the singular phrase 'sidewalk asylums' is a subtle prompt. This reference to the neglected mentally ill in our societies is a powerful-enough message and one that's highly pertinent to the issue of our donation culture. Surely, one of our best defenses against depression and mental ill-health, in the face of impending global crises, is to take action, however insignificant that action might seem—a blood donation, going vegetarian, switching off those glowing devices.
Sleep Donation seems kind of trivial at first, almost lulling you into a sense of security that Russell then starts chipping away. The first few chapters are full of infodumps, long expository passages that lard information and bits of backstory onto the reader with the minimum of grace. This is partly the price that Russell pays for starting in media res, but it also feels like the work of someone who hasn't read enough genre fare to understand that worldbuilding can be teased out. But once Russell has formed a complete picture of her world, she starts to get more and more inventive with it. The bare details of how the donations work and why Baby A is the perfect donor give way to a frenzy of extrapolation, the kind that marks out the best science fiction. Russell comes up with enough second- and third-order effects of her web of insomniacs and donors to make the whole thing feel both real and ferociously bizarre. By the time she really starts spinning out her plot in earnest, the whole thing carries you away not unlike a frenzied dream ... Russell doesn't have the savagery of George Saunders here, and her organization isn't nearly as faceless or terrible as his often are. But what she has, instead, is a fantastical quality that makes the eventual knife-twist that much more brutal.
Even though Sleep Donation takes place in its own sleep-deprived reality, it’s an eerily familiar tale. After all, we readers live in a world in which there are cures for insomnia, but in which there are no clear answers to the novella’s central questions: How much of ourselves should we share with others? In the first place, how much should we be asked to give? At the end of Russell’s short stories I often find myself craving a few (or, a hundred) more pages. The novella is a fitting form for her imagination. Though, honestly, I still wanted Sleep Donation to be even longer (at the end, I thought: and then what happened?). This is as much a testament to the complete and compelling world created here as anything ... Sleep Donation is also an interesting study of how Russell’s own authorial preoccupations have evolved ... In Sleep Donation , we see how necessary this 'occipital sorrow' is; we need it to help us digest reality, to carve out our own unique place within it. In the advanced stages of insomnia, its sufferers become psychotic; their ability to perceive reality is gone. Sufferers hallucinate. In the end, their organs fail. They have heart attacks or strokes. But, before that, they have lost their ability to separate one moment from the next, to make sense of their own identities.
Russell doesn’t care about explaining the how of her novella’s conceit. Rather, she is interested in using the specter of insomnia to illustrate a broader concern: humanity’s fading sense of hope in its own future. The concept of sleep donation can be read, on the one hand, as a generous response to a public threat. The donators sacrifice some essential part of themselves (sleep) for the benefit of others. But the donation system also poses a chilling ethical dilemma ... a spare and strange book, written in prose both lyric and claustrophobic
In Karen Russell’s recently reprinted novella, Sleep Donation , time is running out for Trish to do the right thing ... Twisted, strange, and beautiful, like all of her other work, Sleep Donation from Karen Russell is not to be missed.
... terrific ... a starkly dystopian novella reminiscent of George Saunders in its bleak humor, the directness of its prose ... at once a satire of aid organizations and a brittle examination of exploitation and its discontents ... This, of course, raises all sorts of questions about ethics, about coercion and how we (collectively or individually) bend others to our will. Russell is sharp on that, although even more in tracing Trish’s complicity—not only as the main contact with Baby A’s family, but also in the way she uses her sister’s tragic story as a strategy to close the deal with potential donors.
... an audaciously allegorical novella about sleep deprivation in an age of sensory overload ... Russell seems to be having some fun here ... Those who appreciate Russell’s literary alchemy might find this a little too close to science fiction, but it serves as a parable on a number of levels for a world that is recognizably our own. More of a detour than a natural progression for the author, whose fans will nevertheless find this as engaging as it is provocative.
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.