What is literally happening in Fever Dream is not so much the point. In fact, the book can be interpreted several ways and probably should be. It doesn’t even limit itself to one state of being, heck, nor should it.
It is not meant to be taken literally, or rather it is, it begs to be taken for exactly what it is, while at the same time being no more than a metaphor, a haunting,
What I mean to say is that this is a very different sort of narrative. It begs to be read in a single sitting—there are no chapters or breaks of any kind, it just reads straight through. All we really know is that there are two speakers, Amanda (writing in roman) and David (writing in italics).
They are in a hospital where Amanda is ill and David is asking her questions, getting her to recount her memories of a specific time, a seemingly innocuous summer when she was vacationing with her daughter. He seems to be looking for some sort of specific information, a precise moment.
We find out that he is a child and Amanda knew his mother.
We find out that something went wrong, but what was it, exactly?
Being suffused into Amanda’s story is a bit like sinking into your own fever dream. At the beginning, the two speaker’s repartee is a bit of a shock—like jumping into cold water—it takes a minute to decipher who is saying what and what exactly is going on, there is a continued discussion of worms? What worms? Why are there worms? And where are we anyway?
But once she settles into the rhythm of her memory, it all feels familiar, like a promised story. It lulls you to your normal state of reading, what you are used to.
And all behind that, tension is mounting. In David’s carefully phrased questions, in the very specific use of language (brava, translator!) there is a feeling of unease that something is coming, something isn’t quite right.
There is this great repeated imagery throughout of a child (Nina) being attached to her mother (Amanda) by a thread by a rescue distance. When the rescue distance pulls taut, Amanda can feel it in her stomach, in her gut, that something is wrong. Depending on the situation, the distance is shorter or longer. I thought this such an apt description of a mother’s intuition and willingness to do anything to protect her child.
This book masters the smudged line of the fantastic. What is real? What is supernatural? Is it all in Amanda’s head, courtesy of her illness? Is it possible? What has even happened? There are several distinct possibilities, but as readers, we are left trying to pick up the pieces, try to decode what of the information we’ve been given is reliable.
Existential, metaphorical, delirious, and all the more compelling for the way it leaves the reader to decide the truth, this tiny book packs a punch. Yet another great achievement from Riverhead. I would love to see the other works from this author translated.
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Find out more about the author, Samanta Schweblin
Find out more about the publisher, Riverhead Books (Penguin Random House)
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I realized lately that all I really know about law and courtrooms and lawyering is what I’ve seen, heard, and read about through criminal trials (both real and imagined). True crime and crime fiction is generally my scene, but when given a chance to expand my knowledge, I’m game.
Big Law is about a different side of the justice world. One where lawyers from big name firms make boatloads of money working all the time on cases representing big syndicates and companies who are probably in the wrong and have done horrible things, like spill oil all over the habitat of a bunch of poor birds or force people to work in an unhealthy environment that led to early lung cancer related deaths.
Somehow, those corporations seem to skive off without much damage and it’s always Big Law lawyers who are seen skulking away.
Welcome to the world of totally unfair bullsh!t. Oh, wait, I think you’ll recognize it since we are all currently living there for the next four years.
Anyway, back to the story. Big Law follows an up-and-coming newly minted partner, Carney Blake, who is pretty fresh from law school and still rosy-eyed and a bit idealistic about the whole law game.
When he’s given a case fighting against the corporation, for the plaintiff, the people who have been wronged, it seems a bit fishy, but he figures his company is just turning over a new leaf.
The story is told from a point in the future, so the reader gets bits of Carney’s more hardened, mature narration throughout and we can’t help but wonder, where is he telling this story from? The top of his own executive office in a crisp Armani suit? Or a jail cell in a nice orange D.O.C. jumpsuit?
Because things don’t seem to be going so well for Carney. Not in his personal life, where his father is an alcoholic mess and his brother is a drug addict, and not at his job, where every decision he makes for this case seems to send it spiraling out of control—and right into the hands of the firm’s biggest enemy.
This is an extremely fast-paced novel that spins out the world of corporate law in a way that is not only intelligible, but exciting and effortless. It drew me in and I didn’t feel like it stopping to explain every step of the process to me—instead the book treated me like an equal while still giving me all the information I needed. The mark of an experienced and great writer.
I think it definitely helps that this book is written by someone very much in the know: Ron Liebman is a former top litigator himself.
Interestingly, this book has some very clear lines demarcating good and bad, with only one surprise character (who I had a sneaking suspicion about anyway). People who the narrator thinks are bad (and are therefore cast in a bad light throughout) invariably turn out bad, through and through.
No real grey area in law, I guess.
Though the book definitely wraps up with a nicely tight bow, a bit neat for my taste, the story is definitely satisfying and gave me a buzz to read. It puts you right in the action of making the decisions with Carney and floods your brain with just a small bit of the constant wave information that lawyers’ brains must deal with.
Can’t say I’m envious of that life, but it’s nice to take a peek inside for one heck of a wild ride.
Get your copy of Big Law
Find out more about the author, Ron Liebman
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Find out more about the publisher, Blue Rider Press (Penguin Random House)
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Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.