Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin – A Review

I’d wondered a moment before how she could take that child’s hand, now I wonder how it’s possible to let go of it…

Fever Dream is a slight little novel, a conversation that takes place between a woman in a hospital and the little boy, who is not her son, sitting at her bedside. Hallucinatory and poetic, there is talk of worm and poison, horses and “the exact moment.”

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The woman recounts the moments that led to her lying in the hospital and together with the boy, they search for the “exact moment” when everything changed. The woman has a young daughter of her own, and speaks of the “rescue distance.” The rescue distance is the thread between the mother and her daughter, how long it would take to reach her should something happen. Sometimes the string is pulled tight and the mother needs her daughter close, sometimes it’s OK to let it unspool.

But the dark heart of the book seems to indicate that the rescue distance doesn’t matter, that no matter how close you keep your children, terrible things can happen anyway.

Why do mothers do that?
What?

Try to get out in front of anything that could happen–the rescue distance.
It’s because sooner or later something terrible will happen. 

There’s a mounting sense of dread as we travel further into the reality of this poisoned little town, although “reality” is not a word I’d apply to this book; we spiral towards the the terrible truth, all of our own anxieties and fears surfacing in the wake of the woman’s mounting terror.

Samanta Schweblin is an Argentine author, and the work is excellently translated by Megan McDowell. The prose takes on a lyrical repetition, a call-and-response between the boy and the woman.

Although there’s nothing mysterious or terribly original regarding the thematic materials, it is a well-told story that will haunt. It’s best to let it percolate instead of trying to figure it all out. Just like our strangest dreams, webs of our worst fears and anxieties, it is quite unexplainable, and yet powerful.

 

How Bad You Want that ETI: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu and A Call to Arms by Alan Dean Foster

How wonderful it will be if the universe really contains other intelligences and other societies! Bystanders have the clearest view. Someone truly neutral will then be able to comment on whether we’re the heroes or villains of history.

 

Any Sci-Fi novel that traffics in alien intelligence inevitably uses the conceit of a “neutral observer” to comment on the only sapient species we have yet discovered: humans.

What’s a human? What are they all about? What does it mean to be human? In real life, we don’t have anything to compare ourselves to besides each other. It’s telling that in literature we create mythological beings and extra-terrestrial intelligences to offer commentary on our status as a species. If there is intelligent life beyond our planet, what the hell would they think of us?

I had the fortune to read back-to-back novels that addressed this question in radically different ways. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu frames our first interstellar contact in against the backdrop of the Chinese revolution with a good dose of technology and physics. A Call to Arms by Alan Dean Foster has a whole host of alien species dropping in on earth to recruit humans in an intergalactic war. The way the alien species conceptualize earth and humans is revealing of just how conceited us humans can be about our own kind.

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January Wrap-Up: The TBR that wasn’t

So here’s the TBR I planned at the beginning of January:

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I ended up reading 3 of the 6

 

And here’s what I actually read:

Hex by Thomas Old Heuvelt – A 21st century twist on witches, hauntings, and our propensity to punish scapegoats for collective sins.

The Elementals by Michael McDowell – A little Southern Gothic gem with a memorable cast of characters and a house full of bad intentions.

Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge – Putting faces on statistics makes it a little more uncomfortable to rationalize our right to buy guns at will.

Ten by Gretchen McNeil – A terrible “adaptation” of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Not even fun from a “dumb teens dying in a slasher flick” sort of way.

Summit by Harry Farthing – Nazis and mountains, a surprisingly engagin story, even if the audiobook is read by the author.

Columbine by Dave Cullen – The specter of the Columbine shooting hovers with every new mass shooting reported. America has a problem with guns.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – This book about the political battlefield of the playground contains some heavy themes about abuse and rape.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson – Things in your life may not always be your fault, but they are certainly your responsibility.

The Delusion of Gender by Cordelia Fine – Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and there’s nothing that can be done about, because it’s genetics, right? Hold on. There has been a general attitude of confidence in the results of neuroscience, which on the surface appears to support a fundamental difference between male and female brains that make men good at engineering and women good at empathy (if that’s true, why does every woman’s magazine promote articles titled “What He’s Really Thinking” They should just name the magazine “Your Man’s Brain” and get it over with.) But the author delves below this superficial surface to parse out the actual science, which is flimsier than presented.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport – Instead of asking what value the world has to offer you, ask what value you have to offer the world. A fascinating premise: “follow your passion” is bad advice.

Fungi from Yuggoth by H.P. Lovecraft – Lovecraft tries to be Poe and writes a lot of soppy poems in his early years, including “Old Christmas” which is several pages long and unreadable. “Psychopompos” and “Fungi From Yuggoth” are much more Lovecraftian in style, and probably he should just stick to prose.

By the Numbers:

Number of books: 11 (surpassed my goal of 10)
Audiobooks: 4
Non-Fiction: 5
Fiction: 6
Favorite NF: Columbine by Dave Cullen
Favorite Fiction: Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Next Up: February TBR

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