Author of the week: Karen Russell
Karen Russell could use a rest, said Molly Langmuir in Elle. Last year, during a book tour for her short-story collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove, the author and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient got so worn down that her very weariness inspired her to crank out a new novella. “I was flying a lot and was a red-eyed maniac, living in that weird daytime purgatory that exists when you haven’t slept,” she says. Realizing she was far from alone in her grogginess, she began to think about the possibility of a technology that would allow sound sleepers to donate dreams to insomniacs. Soon, that idea evolved into a vision of a near future in which people were dying from an insomnia epidemic, and sleep transfusions start spreading a nightmare that’s proving more frightening than death.
Russell had an extra twist in mind when she chose to publish Sleep Donation as an e-book only, said Dave Davies in NPR.org. “I think there’s something really perverse and right about it being a digital novella,” she says. Early in the story, she has one character wonder if the insomnia outbreak has anything to do with the public’s addiction to the information flowing to the screens of their computers and mobile devices—information like the very text that’s communicating the idea and planting it in the reader’s head. “I really hope that everybody is gathered around that neon glow and implicated in a different way. That was one of my hopes when we were engineering this thing.” she says. “I guess that was my secret, and now it’s not a secret anymore.”