Fever Dream (Samanta Schweblin novel)

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Fever Dream
AuthorSamanta Schweblin
Original titleDistancia de rescate
TranslatorMegan McDowell
GenreHorror Fiction, Psycological Fiction
PublisherRiverhead Books
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePaperback

Fever Dream (Spanish: Distancia de rescate) is a 2014 horror novel by Samanta Schweblin. An English translation by Megan McDowell was published in 2017 through Riverhead Books.[1] The novel has elements of psychological fiction and takes inspiration from the environmental problems in Argentina.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

Waking up disoriented in a clinic, Amanda begins a conversation with a young boy named David. He urges Amanda to try to remember what happened before she came to the clinic. Through the constant cajoling of David, Amanda recounts her memories as she attempts to piece together what happened to her.

Amanda tells how she met David’s mother, Carla, while staying at a rented house in the country. After a day at the lake, Carla told Amanda about her son David and how he came to be the way he is now. The story involves her husband Omar and his prized stallion. One day Carla noticed that the horse was missing. She and David went looking for the horse and found it sipping from a stream. David played in the stream, but when Carla saw that there was a dead bird nearby, she quickly got David out of the water. After a few days, the horse became severely ill and died. Carla, realizing that David might also be infected, hurriedly took David to the mysterious woman, reputed as a healer, who lived in the green house. This woman told Carla that David could be saved, but he would be forever different as his soul would be split into two portions through a process called transmigration. But it would allow him to survive. Carla agrees to save David, but after the treatment, she recognizes how he has changed and she refuses to touch him, calling him a “monster.”

Back in the present, David urges Amanda to explain what her “rescue distance,” is. It is Amanda’s way of keeping her daughter Nina safe, by constantly calculating the maximal distance from her to assure that she can be rescued if necessary. Amanda tells of her visit into town with Nina where they encounter a little girl with a deformed leg. Amanda, pensive after this encounter, goes to the green house to ask the mysterious woman what she knows. When she gets back, Carla is there and warns her that David is in the house. Amanda, worried how his presence may affect her daughter, forces David to leave and then decides that she and Nina will leave the town as soon as possible. She has Nina pack her bag, but before leaving, decides that she needs to talk to Carla one more time.

Amanda and Nina find Carla at the mayor’s house, and she invites them to see the stables. They wait for Carla outside where some men are unloading a truck full of barrels, filled with an unknown substance. They wait in the grass, watching the men work. When Carla comes out, Amanda and Nina stand up and realize that they are now wet from the dew. In the present, David interrupts Amanda's story to point out that this is an important detail - they were not wet from dew, but from something else.

Amanda, returning to her story, recalls how Carla revealed more about David and his recovery - it took a long time for David to start speaking again. Meanwhile, animals kept mysteriously dying around David, including a neighbor’s dog. At this news, Amanda begins to feel sick and has to lie down in the field. Carla drives her to the clinic, and Nina then starts to feel sick too. At the clinic, the nurse informs them that they have just had too much sun. They are released and Carla takes them to her house where Amanda and Nina lie down for a nap together. David again interrupts to tell Amanda that they were poisoned.

Amanda then recalls that she drove Nina to town to get some water. They saw a group of children cross the road who are deformed like David. Amanda got out of the car and collapsed. She is taken back to the clinic, while Nina is taken to the green house. Amanda then recounts the story through the eyes of her husband who went to see Carla's husband Omar at their house. He asks Omar about what happened to Nina. Omar does not have an answer. Omar confesses that Carla has left town. David comes into the room; Amanda’s husband decides to leave, never to return.

Main characters[edit]


Amanda is the mother of Nina. She is protective and very concerned with her daughter's welfare, constantly calculating a "rescue distance". She lives with her husband and daughter in the capital and came to the country with Nina for a vacation. She does not know why she is in a clinic.


David is the son of Carla and Omar. He drank poisoned water when he was three years old and nearly died, but was saved by the woman in the green house through the process of transmigration. After recovering from his poisoning, David does not act like he used to. He no longer refers to Carla as "Mom".


Carla is the mother of David, wife of Omar. She was an accountant for a local farm. After the incident with David, she begins to describe him as a monster. She becomes a friend to Amanda and warns her to stay away from David.


Nina is Amanda's daughter. She eventually becomes poisoned like the other children.


Omar is the husband of Carla and father of David. He was once a successful racehorse breeder but lost his best horses after they were poisoned by the stream.

Woman in the Green House[edit]

She is a local woman known for her healing abilities. She uses supernatural powers to keep the poisoned kids alive. She healed both David and Nina after they were poisoned.

Cultural background[edit]

Schweblin drew inspiration for her novel from the use of harmful pesticides in farming towns throughout Argentina, which she stated causes multiple issues.[2] Schweblin states that Argentina is a major producer of soybeans, a product related with pesticides.[2] It is also one of the world’s top producers of genetically engineered crops, mainly soybeans designed to resist pesticides.[3] This allows for excess spraying of herbicides with no negative effects to the crops. Pesticides can have several effects on the members of farming towns in Argentina, including birth defects and other health issues.[3] This is illustrated in the novel as many children in the town have birth defects. Pesticides, along with other agricultural runoff, can drain into water sources causing contamination.There are many communities without running water, and their water sources are contaminated by agricultural runoff containing pesticides.[3] In some cases, old pesticide containers are even used to collect rainwater.This is seen within the novel as several characters are poisoned through local water sources.[2]


Critical response[edit]

Reception for Fever Dream has been predominantly positive. NPR praises the novel for its use of horror in highlighting the use of toxic agricultural chemicals calling it "an exceptional example of the short-and-creepy form".[1] An article from The New Yorker says that the book is "so enigmatic and so disciplined...[that] it belongs to a new literary genre altogether".[4]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Meyer, Lily. "Brief But Creepy, 'Fever Dream' Has A Poisonous Glow". NPR.org. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  2. ^ a b c d "Samanta Schweblin on Revealing Darkness Through Fiction". Literary Hub. 2017-01-12. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  3. ^ a b c "A Town Demands Protection from Pesticides". National Geographic News. 2016-02-23. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  4. ^ Tolentino, Jia (2017-01-04). "The Sick Thrill of "Fever Dream"". ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  5. ^ "Samanta Schweblin Wins the Tigre Juan Literary Award".
  6. ^ "The Man Booker International Prize 2017 | The Man Booker Prizes". themanbookerprize.com. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  7. ^ "The Morning News Tournament of Books - Presented by Field Notes". themorningnews.org. Retrieved 2019-04-14.