Fever Dream – Samanta Schweblin

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We’ve got more Argentinian Weird fiction to talk about. After reading Schweblin’s “Mouthful of Birds,” I jumped right over to “Fever Dream,” which was short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2017. It’s literary fiction with a healthy dose of psychological and eco-horror.

The story is narrated by Amanda, who is on her death bed in a small Argentinian village. She’s recounting the events leading up to her sudden illness while vacationing in this small town with her young daughter, Nina. Throughout her time there, Amanda learns from her friend Carla about the strange things that have been happening lately, most notably to her own son, David, whom she claims is no longer her son but an imposter. As it happens, Amanda is narrating the entire story to David at his insistence…

The eco-horror elements are fascinating. The land is poisoned. The water is toxic, and everywhere life is becoming deformed and grotesque. All because agriculture is contaminating the land. Schweblin based the narrative on actual environmental hazards that are effecting Argentinian life. I was equally drawn in by how “motherhood anxieties” manifest throughout the story. Amanda is always calculating the “rescue distance” between her and her daughter. At points it verges on obsession, fueling the anxiety that something terrible is bound to happen (hint it does, you just can’t see it…)

The novel (more like a novella) is unsettling from start to finish, though never really crosses over into being horrifying (which I was on board with.) It has a very refined plot, so do not expect VanderMeer level strangeness. In fact, one of the most remarkable things about this story is how it’s told. It’s told almost in an interview style, where the protagonist is telling narratives within narratives and will jump in and out of them very suddenly. However, it’s not the kind of thing that causes confusion, it just keeps you on your toes because it’s masterfully done.

Story by The Editors