How does one even begin to talk about Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream?
It’s going to be short, this one. Because this book is a major WTF wrapped in a nice juicy slice of Oh, shit and baked until it’s a sloppy soup of Who the hell knows?.
Sorry, not PG today.
This book just does that to me because, really, I’m not entirely sure that I know what I read.
It’s not like it’s hard. Far from it, in fact. It’s such a quick read—I picked it up, read the first quarter before I’d even checked out, read the next quarter by the time I got home, and then sat down and just quickly finished it.
I did also feel a little embarrassed for about a minute when I was reading it in public, because frankly it looks like a children’s book. It’s little and square, with large spaces between the type. It makes it all the faster to flip through the pages without stopping: this book really is like a fever dream (I assume. After all, I don’t think I’ve actually had one before…especially since I live in the global north in the twenty-first century. Though who knows how long any of that will last.).
Imagine Naked Lunch. Now take out the cut-up technique, the drugs, and the sex.
I think that’s what this is.
Basically, this book feels like a stream-of-consciousness rapid-fire wandering through the strange memories and dreams of a woman who’s remembering another woman’s story.
Ah, ok…I’m confusing everyone. See, I’m disordered, you’re disordered, this book is disordered.
It opens with a sort of dialogue. A boy is asking a woman in a hospital questions. She’s not entirely sure who he is; she’s not his mother.
She’s maybe unconscious, on the verge of losing it entirely (it being her sanity, her life, her who knows..).
He’s questioning her, trying to pinpoint a specific moment, though we’re not entirely sure what or why. Neither is he, maybe, he just keeps repeating that things are or aren’t important, asking more details about them, and telling the woman to skip ahead at times.
She tells him about things that happened in the past—her interactions with another woman who was distraught by something (saying what would definitely be a spoiler for one of the pivotal plot points slash WTF moments, so I won’t). It’s all somehow leading up to how she’s gotten here instead of on her vacation, where she was renting a home when she met the other woman.
That summary is really as thorough as I can give, without just ruining it all. Because, as usual, this book is more about reading it and how it’s written than just the plot, but the plot is pretty important.
There’s some environmental commentary and some mysticism in this novel, some discussion of how people from various countries and monetary backgrounds interact with their children and the world around them. There’s also some discussion of morality and what parents will do to save their children.
The book is translated; it’s set in South or Central America somewhere. It’s an incongruous mix of rural and suburban with a little old-world viewpoint thrown in. It’s difficult to put it down, both because I knew that if I did, I’d have no idea what was happening and would have to start from scratch and because it flows so quickly, broken primarily by the boy’s questions and with the understanding at the beginning that there is a specific time limit.
It’s not a hard book to read, nor is it time consuming. However, if you’re someone who often misses subtle elements in books, this isn’t for you—nothing is really explained overtly. If you’re looking for a happy ending or for a book that makes sense and is wrapped up well, again, don’t read this.
But if you feel like most of the books you’ve been reading lately have been pretty standard and you want something completely out there, if you feel like you need something that will play with your mind, if you feel like reading something engrossing and enthralling for none of the typical reasons, check this book out.
Honestly, when I finished I was okay with not knowing anything I was missing. I was okay with the sense that it was all just wrong/mixed up in the end. (Sorry. I guess that’s a spoiler.) Because it was weird and maybe a little wild but managed to do something not just any book can do in terms of pacing and flow and twists and turns.