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.”
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?
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.