Rating 5 stars
Fever Dream is a short, brilliant book. It’s hard to review without giving things away, but suffice to say that Samanta Schweblin has delivered a masterpiece in suspense writing and translator Megan McDowell has done a cracking job of putting the Spanish into English.
Fever Dream is just what the title suggests: a mixture of truth and feverish imaginings. This is a modern horror story. Amanda and her young daughter Nina arrive in a rural area of Argentina, where the main business is farming soybeans, and discover that there is something corrupting in the area.
The story is told in flashback. We meet Amanda as she lies in a hospital bed, talking to a boy called David. David is guiding her towards the truth. Every other thing that Amanda tries to talk about, David tells her, is not the important thing. It’s a chilling phrase, repeated at points that seem to Amanda and to us as readers to be fundamentally important things. It’s a phrase that elicits the reaction, “Well what is the important thing, then?”
Schweblin has the discipline as a writer to know what her ending is and how to get there without rushing, without superfluous padding, without revealing too much too soon. I was utterly gripped, tempted to stay on the bus on my way to work so that I could keep reading. Had I been at home all day, I feel sure I’d have finished it in a couple of hours. As it was, I had to spread my reading out across the day.
Through a mixture of clues and supposition, with a hint of superstition and the supernatural, Schweblin leads you along through the horror of what is going on. That the ending and the truth about the events that Amanda relates to us is so mundane makes the horror even worse.
I have Schweblin’s story collection Mouthful of Birds on order at the library. I can barely wait to read it now.