3. A book written in South America: Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
List Progress: 28/30
There is something in the water; in the grass; in the air.
These images evoke creeping fantastical horrors, but they are horrific realities in places all over the globe, places tainted with pollutants and contaminants and chemical expressions of human hubris. Samanta Schweblin’s 2014 Argentine novel Fever Dream (Distancia de rescate or “rescue distance” in the original Spanish), takes place in the mind of a poisoned mother, conversing with a strange child about what happened to lead them both to the hospital where they find themselves. It is a quiet, haunting book made up entirely of a single conversation that manages to say everything and yet nothing important.
Fever Dream lives up to its rebranded English title, with its rich atmosphere of surreal suffering. Young mother Amanda is in a hospital bed, feeling her body and brain shut down, and all she can do is go over events with a mysterious boy named David, who once survived his own brush with death, but came out the other end very different. Other characters like Amanda’s daughter Nina and David’s mother Carla are described so richly that the audience knows them, but Amanda and David are the only ones presented first-hand. It is a real triumph for Schweblin to be able to maintain atmosphere and tension over a novel-length conversation, and the feeling of dread around every corner never lets up. Schweblin is truly an author who understands the differences between “terror”, “scares”, and absolute stomach-churning “horror”.
This book will certainly not be for everyone. There are moments, especially with David, that tread right on the line of becoming repetitive, and the incredibly simple plot told with expressive language is not going to be a style that sits well with all audiences. But in a world where humans dump chemicals left and right, with barely a thought to who or what those chemicals will eventually touch, more people could use a little unsettling environmental horror.
Would I Recommend It: Very much yes.