Review by Lauren Colie
There’s something in the water…
The vacation began as many do: with warmed and glistening skin, softly-scented sunscreen wafting in the breeze and a child’s energetic romp through the yard before lunchtime. Amanda and daughter Nina settled in for a week of relaxation in a rural rental, with Amanda’s husband set to join them the next weekend. Amanda, a city girl from the capitol, sensed another outsider when she met Carla of the gold bikini and chic bun and extended friendship to this temporary neighbor.
Through the pungent haze of cigarette smoke, Carla shared her story of loss. Her son, David, took ill after an accident she felt was her fault. She enlisted help from the woman who lives in the greenhouse because a doctor would have arrived too late, knowing her choice was risky. David was never the same.
All this, of course, you read from a great distance, a voyeur eavesdropping on the spirits of David and Amanda as he helps her navigate her fevered memories in the gray miasma of in-between. Timelines warp, logic stutters and some grand truth bubbles elusively, just beyond reach.
“That is not important,” David repeats as he eases Amanda’s trudging journey, urging her to locate the moment the nightmare began. When did the rescue distance – that variable space between her and Nina where her daughter would be safe and protected – shrink to nothing and fail as danger seeped up from the ground, right beside her?
Samanta Schweblin is one of Argentina’s star short story writers. In the English version of her first novel, she blames no villains and hires no heroes. Inescapable forces defying reason and control creep in and lay claim to the town, leaving behind a wreckage of ghoulish children and animal graves.
Schweblin weaves a sickly recollection simmering with tension, one that oscillates between too-harsh, glaringly sharp detail and dimmed, dream-like moments where spirit guide David hurries the narrative past details That Are Not Important. Because events have already passed, there is no redemption. There is only a churning momentum forward as Amanda’s time runs out.
Fever Dream demands a second read – maybe even a third or fourth retelling, as Amanda needed, before concrete answers might surface through the disorienting haze Schweblin has crafted. Perhaps this time, you can unravel the frustrating intrigue of David’s being, or know the extent of Carla’s trustworthiness or unmask the menace writhing in the water. Just one more obsessive pass over the details, and surely, the truth will extricate itself and let you move on.
Schweblin dangles information just beyond the page. The haunting magic of Fever Dream is that a tantalizing mystery simmers below what Amanda is able to recall, igniting a hunger to unravel, to solve. Schweblin excels in concealment, in burying just enough leads to reel in interest but shadowing the concrete evidence that would let you put the story to rest. These unresolved tendrils should leave a reader unsatisfied or abandoned, but instead serve to keep you engaged with the puzzle. In the best way possible, Fever Dream infects the mind, niggling in the dark recesses, forcing speculation over answers that exist in limbo – neither confirmed nor denied.
From the Book
“I asked her how it had gone. ‘Better than I expected,’ she said. The transmigration had taken part of the poison away, and now, split between two bodies, it would lose the battle.”
“What does that mean?”
“That David would survive. David’s body, and also David in his new body.”
If I don’t do it, I can’t leave in good conscience. I’ll be back in the city and still be thinking about all this craziness.
Talking to Carla is a mistake.
I turn off the main power switch and close the front door of the house.
This is the moment to leave town, now is the time.
I leave the keys in the mailbox, just as Mr. Geser told me to do the day we leave.
But you’re going to see Carla.
The rescue distance.
I’m sitting ten inches away from my daughter, David. There is no rescue distance.
There must be. Carla was only steps away from me the day the stallion escaped and I almost died.
I have a lot of questions to ask you about that day.
Now’s not the time. You don’t feel anything? There’s no other sensation that could be tied to something else?
I think I have a fever. Is that why everything is so confused? I think that’s why, and also because your attitude is not helpful.
I’m trying to be as clear as possible, Amanda.
That’s not true. I’m missing the most important information.
Where is Nina? What happens at the exact moment? Why is all this about worms?
No, no. It’s not about worms. It feels like worms, at first, in your body. But Amanda, we’ve been through all this, too. We’ve already talked about the poison, the contamination. You’ve already told me four times how you got here.
Published by Riverhead Books, January 2017, 183 pp.
Originally published in Spanish, under the title Distance de Rescate, Published 2014 by Random House Mondadori.