I follow the Tournament of Books every year, and every year I have at least one great discovery from the contest. This year, that discovery was Fever Dream. A friend recommended it to me after it defeated the heavy favorite Lincoln in the Bardo in the contest’s opening round. It was described as hypnotic, haunting, and slightly disturbing–all qualities that are exceedingly difficult to conjure in writing. So you can imagine that I went in with a touch of skepticism. I picked Fever Dream up from my local library, sat in my armchair that very evening and considered the slender volume in my hands. “Okay, Fever Dream,” I thought. “Impress me.”
The next thing I knew I was being reminded that we had a strict bedtime that evening because we had to get up early the next morning for a drive and it was time to put the book down. I had lost nearly two hours becoming completely absorbed in Fever Dream and now I had forty pages left. I knew I had to stop, so I put it down with an extreme sense of irritation and longing. I cannot even remember the last time I was so captivated by a book that I just had to keep going.
The next morning, I took the book in the car with me and let my husband take the first shift. I was worried that putting the book down would have harmed my reading experience. Could I get the rhythm back now that I had interrupted it? I needn’t have worried–within five pages it was back, and when I finished I turned back to the first page and skimmed through it again.
Fever Dream is a puzzling story about a dying woman in conversation with a young boy. To say more would probably defeat the wondrous surprise of getting lost in the book, but I will say that when I found out that the original Spanish title translates to “Rescue Distance,” it felt like unlocking a piece of a massive puzzle. I’m not sure I understand what happens in the book but I have been reading literary reviews with the fervor of research. I can’t remember the last time I was so intrigued by a book that I did research to understand it better.
Not everyone will be susceptible to Fever Dream‘s charms, but I found it to be an unsettling work of genius with incredible amounts of precision and care. Creating a tone and making it build momentum is incredibly difficult, but Samanta Shweblin makes it look easy. I can’t wait to explore more of her work.