Fever Dream
March 26, 2018 11:12 AM - by Samanta Schweblin - Subscribe

A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He's not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family. 
posted by everybody had matching towels (11 comments total)
This books is running roughshod through Tournament of Books. I may have to move up my timetable on reading it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:48 AM on March 28, 2018

If it helps, it's only 183 pages. Won't have to move around much to fit that in, probably. I plowed through it in one sitting.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 9:00 AM on March 28, 2018

Of any book mentioned in the ToB, this is the one I most want to read. I may just spring for Audible after hearing a judge describe the sensation of listening to it as an audio book.
posted by gladly at 9:19 AM on March 28, 2018

Have you heard about the audiobook version of Lincoln in the Bardo? It's bananas. It has 166 different actors, including Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Megan Mullaly, Susan Sarandon, Lena Dunham, Kat Dennings, Ben Stiller, Jeff Tweedy, Carrie Brownstein, Keegan Michael Key... I've been listening to it all week. It's amazing.

That said, the same talk of Fever Dream as an audio book has me considering that format for that one as well.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:28 AM on March 28, 2018

Yes! I've never even seen the print version of Lincoln in the Bardo, but the audio book was the greatest thing I've ever heard. I listened to it while I was traveling alone, so I spent long periods immersed in it, and it was an amazing experience.
posted by gladly at 5:50 AM on March 29, 2018

Fever Dream is terrific. It's almost hilariously slim. It's "183 pages" sure, but each page is maybe two thirds the size of a standard literary paperback, with wider margins, slightly larger print, and slightly greater line spacing than usual. Anyone here could read it in a day.

The story is great though, and it's got a propulsive, relentless pacing, with the kind of spooky, you-can-grasp-it-but-it's-never-spelled-out horror story underpinning. I loved it and I might even read it again.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:24 AM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I can see why it won ToB, as every single word and page is crystalline perfect. It wasn't the most ambitious book, once you shake off its spell and look at its underpinnings, but the spell itself is hypnotic and it's just so perfectly done.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:33 AM on April 4, 2018

I liked this, though I'd be inclined to call it one of the better short stories of 2017 rather than one of the better novels of 2017. The Audible audiobook is very well-produced and I'd recommend it to those who are inclined towards audiobooks - it's kind of perfect for the format, with a very limited set of characters and a plot which skips around just enough, but not too much.

To actually talk about the book, what are people's opinions about the plot? Is David really inhabited by a soul he wasn't born with, or is the entire thing born out of Carla's obsession? Did we ever find the moment where the worms come into being?

I mostly agreed with this positive review of Fever Dream in the New Yorker. It doesn't really try to explicate the plot, not that it should, but I'm curious what other people took away from the book.
posted by whir at 9:50 PM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I read this yesterday and loved it. The immediate comparison that came to mind is that it feels like Jeff Vandermeer crossed with Joanna Russ. (This is definitely one of those "it's obviously SF but literary fiction wants to claim it because it's 'too good to be SF'" books.)

To actually talk about the book, what are people's opinions about the plot? Is David really inhabited by a soul he wasn't born with, or is the entire thing born out of Carla's obsession? Did we ever find the moment where the worms come into being?

First off, I'd say that this is the type of book where "what actually happened" is very much secondary to the feeling you get while reading it. My takeaway was, the only thing we can really know for (relatively) certain is that the farm where Carla worked (and possibly other surrounding farms) are using some kind of toxic chemical which poisoned Amanda and Nina when they sat in it, and David and the horse when they drank it, as well as the rest of the deformed kids/their parents. That would be the "worms."

I definitely think the text implies that David's soul really did get split - if nothing else, the last bit with Nina's dad where David gets into his car and touches Nina's stuffed mole seemed to imply that Nina's soul was split in the same way, and the missing half ended up in David's body. In fact I suspect that all of the deformed kids we see in the village have had the same treatment, which is its own kind of terrifying - imagine all those families flinging their kids' souls away at random, in the hope that the kids would land on better lives even if they never saw them again. And all those other families, waking up with kids who were suddenly half Someone Else and having no idea.

My biggest question is just exactly what David became/was inhabited by after his original treatment. I never really sorted that out.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:44 AM on June 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Side note: I spent the entire book thinking "why on earth isn't this called Rescue Distance," then discovered that the original Spanish title was exactly that. Fever Dream seems like a weird and uninteresting change to me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:11 AM on June 25, 2019

Fans of this book may wish to know that Netflix quietly released a film adaptation a few years back, which is still available for streaming (at least where I live, in the US). The adaptation is extremely faithful to the book and Schweblin is credited as a co-writer. I thought it was quite well done, though as a movie it necessarily loses some of the ambiguity of the book.
posted by whir at 7:28 AM on May 2, 2023

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