Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream (2014) Floating In and Out of Suffering

Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream (2014) Floating In and Out of Suffering

Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream (2014) Floating In and Out of Suffering; told through an experimental narrative, a young mother on the verge of death is visited by the voice of a young boy asking to scan her memories, to find when the ‘worms’ first appeared.

Spoiler Warning* For The Fever Dream Book Review

This leads the woman, Amanda, to recount the last few days at a vacation home, her run-in with another mother with a dark story, and the reflections on her own role as a mother of the young Nina.

All the while, the reader is slipping in and out of the story between conversations with the young boy. Fever Dream is a surreal and deeply disturbing tale of sickness and the trials of motherhood.

The most terrifying thing in Samantha Schweblin’s debut novel is the complete breakdown of a mother’s ability to protect her child as she slowly begins to lose control of her body.

The novel speaks often of this concept of an invisible tether that binds the mother to her child to always keep a safe distance in case anything happens. The way that Schweblin explains the way Amanda keeps this in mind, releasing it or drawing it tighter depending on the scenario gives a constant sense of pervasive unease as she longs to draw her child close but lacks the ability.

As someone who has not experienced motherhood, it is an effective way to convey the invisible bond that you experience with your own family or friends who have kids.

Fever Dream cuts to the most intense fear any parent can have, not just losing one’s own kid but losing the ability to protect the one you cherish most.

Adding to the sense of dread is a story steeped in obscure folklore, soul transference, and an idea of an incompatible disease defining a small town controlling the way it runs. There are certain scenes introduced that show the area that Amanda chose to stumble on has built their town around acceptance of the death of mind and body due to some disease that afflicts their children.

The way the prose tackles the story, flowing in and out, allows quick glances into key moments in Amanda’s nightmare.

For a short novel, Samanta Schweblin manages to convey suffering on a large scale, both personal and cultural suffering.

The land is poisoned to its core and Amanda gets involved in an inescapable nightmare of a lifetime of others feeding into superstition.

Fever Dream is published in English through Riverhead Books.

 

The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)


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“Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream (2014) Floating In and Out of Suffering” was written by Adam Symchuk.

 

 

Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole (2017) – Trapped in Ones Mind

Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole (2017) – Trapped in Ones Mind

After a car crash, Ogi awakens to find himself barely alive, caught in a vegetative state unable to communicate or move. After learning from the doctors that his wife did not survive the crash his sole surviving family member, his mother-in-law, begins to take care of his every need. However, when she discovers her daughter’s notes that point to past transgressions of Ogi. The mother-in-law begins odd obsessive behavior which aims to push Ogi to the brink of insanity — left to slowly rot with minimal care.

Being judged for one’s own actions can be a horrifying experience in itself, let alone adding in the nightmare of being trapped in a broken body unable to defend oneself against the onslaught. Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole is a horror/thriller existing in this realm of perverse uncomfortableness, having a caregiver slowly transform into a menacing force with full control over the life of another.

The book has been compared to books like Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Stephen King’s Misery.

And one can push even so far as to say it challenged the depressing body horror of titles like Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun.

While the book does capitalize on the unease and horrors that come with captivity, both in one’s own body and by an exterior force, The Hole is unlikely to reach the same level of accolades heaped upon the previously mentioned titles. However, that does not mean the book is without merit or that it pales in comparison of a familiar formula.

*Slight spoilers ahead

Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole, undeniably, excels at capturing the waking nightmare of slow, meticulous abuse at the hands of another. Ogi’s internal struggles, a mix of reflecting on the past and trying to rationalize the current scenario he is in, paints a really tragic portrait. This is also heightened by the character’s humanity, as a man who is aware of the mistakes he made and is still trying to do well. As his mother-in-law learns of his marital problems the reader is aware of the narrative, as she understands it, is very one-sided.

Furthermore, Ogi is aware that his actions were wrong but also that his wife was not without blame. This is approached in a very mature practical manner, as Ogi explores the harsh reality that sometimes people just drift apart. Notably, the image he had of his wife when they first fell in love faded as they changed, him finding her dull and uninspiring is not so much born out of cruelty but two people drifting apart. Ultimately, The highlight of the novel has to be Hye-Young Pyun’s exploration of  Ogi as a character through internal dialogue, painting the portrait of a man who does not deserve punishment, yet can also be seen as deserved from a third party.

However, where The Hole begins to slightly falter is in the development of other characters and dialogue, the change from self-reflection to being present in the room with others never holds the same profundity of Ogi stuck in dark ruminations. The mother-in-law, though intimidating feels more like the embodiment of justice over being a character unto herself.

There are also moments of narrative convenience, and even the set-up of the mother-in-law finding the notes of her daughter seems a bit contrived, in the sense she meticulously collected and recorded any argument, action, or negative word that she felt reflected her husband poorly. His status among peers and not having any family of his own also feels shoehorned in to capture that sense of isolation in an immediate fashion. It does make the situation grave and more tragic, yet Ogi can feel very one-dimensional at points due to the ambiguity of the situation and his lack of personal life beyond his wife.

*Spoilers end

Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole is a deeply engaging read, that will draw fans of thrillers in with its frightening scenario and dread-inducing prose in exploring internal dialogue. It does feel a bit rough around the edges and some of the scenarios feel contrived and underdeveloped, but the overall experience is one of extreme discomfort that is certain to make the right reader squirm in all the right ways.

The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)


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“Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole (2017) – Trapped in Ones Mind” was written by Adam Symchuk.

 

 

 

 

Ha Seong-Nan’s Bluebeard’s First Wife: 11 Tales of Everyday Sorrow

Ha Seong-Nan’s Bluebeard’s First Wife: 11 Tales of Everyday Sorrow

Ha Seong-Nan’s Bluebeard’s First Wife: 11 Tales of Everyday Sorrow: selected as on of the top ten books of 2020 in Publishers Weekly, Ha Seong-nan’s “Bluebeard’s First Wife” is the second collection of stories from the South Korean Author to be translated to English. The previous collection, “Flowers of Mold“, set the stage for an author who dives into misery with an unapologetic honesty. “Bluebeard’s First Wife” carries on the same motifs of the previous work, all the while cementing Seong-na a wonderfully, unique literary voice.

The eleven tales contained in this release offer brief moments that act as a profound turning moment in life, whether it be the loss of a partner who wonders off, an unplanned pregnancy after a night of partying, or the loss of a pet leading to a search that causes neglect of duties, all the stories take place over the course of a few, traumatic, days. What makes each of these stories resonate with the reader is the way that Seong-nan delivers her stories: told in frank language that is conveyed as if it is a personal account from the person who is struggling. consequently, the writing does not contain pithy language and emotions are expressed very matter-of-fact.

It is the approach to her writing that makes these tales really resonate with the reader, the words almost coming across as a dark confession from a stranger. A prime example, in the phenomenal “On That Green Green Grass”, Seong-nan is able to completely breakdown the nuclear family trope after the kidnapping of a family pet puts a suburban family’s ideal existence into disarray through the matriarchs personal account of events. This short, above all else, demonstrates the authors’ ability to lead the reader on an emotional journey as the chain of events evokes deep moments of empathy for how each family member copes from the perspective of the exhausted wife.

While doom and gloom is the modus operandi in the world of Seong-nan, that is not to say that the work is just pure indulgence in misery. The author can express a playful wit in entries such as “A Quiet Night”, which sees a failed carpenter slowly become mad by the neighbors upstairs–forming an odd relationship with a disgruntled family where their every movement becomes timed. However, the indulgence in fantastical elements offer the most engaging departure from the emotionally fueled work. The short “Pinky Finger”, manages to morph an unsettling cab ride into an absurdist tale of magic induced vengeance.

However, the biggest highlight in the collection comes from the closing piece, “Daisy Fleabane”. The story is of a young girl reflecting on the past, but the reader is soon informed, through an inventive story device, that daisy has long since deceased with her body swirling below the river she would visit with her father on camping trips. It is a story that combines tragedy, horror, and experimental narratives in a brilliant and engaging fashion–an ideal conclusion to the collection that summarizes the wide skillet of Seong-nan as a writer.

Overall, the stories across “Bluebeard’s First Wife” demand a lot of emotional commitment from the reader.

The themes explored capture both deep universal tragedies and personal turbulence that can come from a simple misunderstanding. The book will challenge you, but it is certainly worth the challenge.

This title is, perhaps, most comparable to the popular South Korean novel “The Vegetarian” by Han Kang, containing the same flow of language and knack for hyper-focusing in on minute tragedies and broken personalities. if that work piqued your interest I would highly recommend checking out “Bluebeards First Wife”.

Published by Open Letter, you can fine the release in both physical and Kindle format.

 


The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)


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“Ha Seong-Nan’s Bluebeard’s First Wife: 11 Tales of Everyday Sorrow” was written by Adam Symchuk.