Fever Dream

A Novel

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Trade Paperback


Trade Paperback

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 6, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.


“Genius.” –Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker

Finalist for the Man Booker International Prize!

Experience the blazing, surreal sensation of a fever dream…

A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family.      
Fever Dream is a nightmare come to life, a ghost story for the real world, a love story and a cautionary tale. One of the freshest new voices to come out of the Spanish language and translated into English for the first time, Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange psychological menace and otherworldly reality in this absorbing, unsettling, taut novel.


For the first time in a long while, he looked down and saw his hands. If you have had this experience, you'll know just what I mean.

—JESSE BALL, The Curfew

They're like worms.

What kind of worms?

Like worms, all over.

It's the boy who's talking, murmuring into my ear. I am the one asking questions.

Worms in the body?

Yes, in the body.


No, another kind of worms.

It's dark and I can't see. The sheets are rough, they bunch up under my body. I can't move, but I'm talking.

It's the worms. You have to be patient and wait. And while we wait, we have to find the exact moment when the worms come into being.


Because it's important, it's very important for us all.

I try to nod, but my body doesn't respond.

What else is happening in the yard outside the house? Am I in the yard?

No, you're not, but Carla, your mother, is. I met her a few days ago, when we first got to the vacation house.

What is Carla doing?

She finishes her coffee and leaves the mug in the grass, next to her lounge chair.

What else?

She gets up and walks away. She's forgetting her sandals, which are a few feet away on the pool steps, but I don't say anything.

Why not?

Because I want to wait and see what she does.

And what does she do?

She slings her purse over her shoulder and walks toward the car in her gold bikini. There's something like mutual fascination between us, and also at times, brief moments of repulsion; I can feel them in very specific situations. Are you sure these kinds of comments are necessary? Do we have time for this?

Your observations are very important. Why are you in the yard?

Because we've just gotten back from the lake, and your mother doesn't want to come into my house.

She wants to save you any trouble.

What kind of trouble? I have to go inside anyway, first for some iced tea with lemon, then for the sunscreen. That doesn't seem like she's saving me any trouble.

Why did you go to the lake?

She wanted me to teach her how to drive, she said she'd always wanted to learn. But once we were at the lake, neither of us had the patience for it.

What is she doing now, in the yard?

She opens the door of my car, gets into the driver's seat, and digs around in her purse for a while. I swing my legs down off the lounge chair and wait. It's so hot. Then Carla gets tired of rummaging around, and she grips the steering wheel with both hands. She stays like that for a moment, looking toward the gate, or maybe toward her own house, far beyond the gate.

What else? Why are you quiet?

It's just, I'm stuck. I can see the story perfectly, but sometimes it's hard to move forward. Is it because of the nurses' injections?


But I'm going to die in a few hours. That's going to happen, isn't it? It's strange how calm I am. Because even though you haven't told me, I know. And still, it's an impossible thing to tell yourself.

None of this is important. We're wasting time.

But it's true, right? That I'm going to die.

What else is happening in the yard?

Carla leans her forehead against the steering wheel and her shoulders start to shake a little; she's crying. Do you think we could be close to the exact moment when the worms are born?

Keep going, don't forget the details.

Carla doesn't make any noise, but she gets me to stand up and walk over to her. I liked her from the start, from the day I saw her walking in the sun and carrying two large plastic buckets. She had her red hair pulled back in a big bun and she was wearing denim overalls. I hadn't seen anyone wear those since I was a teenager. I was the one who insisted on iced tea, and I invited her over for mate the next morning, and the next one, and the next one, too. Are these the important details?

We'll know the exact moment from a detail, you have to be observant.

I cross the yard. When I skirt the pool, I look in the window toward the dining room to be sure that my daughter, Nina, is still asleep, hugging her big stuffed mole. I get into the car on the passenger side. I sit, but I leave the door open and roll the window down, because it's very hot. Carla's big bun is drooping a little, coming undone on one side. She leans against the backrest, aware that I'm there now, beside her once again, and she looks at me.

"If I tell you," she says, "you won't want me to visit anymore."

I think about what to say, something like "Now Carla, come on, don't be silly," but instead I look at her toes, tense on the brakes, her long legs, her thin but strong arms. I'm disconcerted that a woman ten years older than me is so much more beautiful.

"If I tell you," she says, "you won't want him to play with Nina."

"But Carla, come on, how could I not want that."

"You won't, Amanda," she says, and her eyes fill with tears.

"What's his name?"


"Is he yours? Is he your son?"

She nods. That son is you, David.

I know. Go on.

She wipes away her tears with her knuckles, and her gold bracelets jangle. I had never seen you, but when I'd mentioned to Mr. Geser, the caretaker of our rental house, that I'd made friends with Carla, he asked right away if I'd met you yet. Then Carla says:

"He was mine. Not anymore."

I look at her, confused.

"He doesn't belong to me anymore."

"Carla, children are forever."

"No, dear," she says. She has long nails, and she points at me, her finger level with my eyes.

Then I remember my husband's cigarettes, and I open the glove compartment and hand them to her with a lighter. She practically snatches them from my hand, and the perfume of her sunscreen wafts between us.

"When David was born, he was the light of my life, he was my sun."

"Of course he was," I say, and I realize I need to be quiet now.

"The first time they put him in my arms, I was so anxious. I was convinced he was missing a finger." She holds the cigarette between her lips, smiling at the memory, and she lights it. "The nurse said sometimes that happens with the anesthesia, it can make you a little paranoid. I swear, until I counted all ten of his fingers twice, I wasn't convinced everything had turned out all right. What I wouldn't give now for David to simply be missing a finger."

"What's wrong with David?"

"But back then he was a delight, Amanda, I'm telling you: my moon and stars. He smiled all day long. His favorite thing was to be outside. He was crazy about the playground, even when he was tiny. You see how around here you can't go for a walk with a stroller. In town you can, but from here to the playground you have to go between the big estates and the shanties along the train tracks. It's a mess with all the mud, but he liked going so much that until he was three I'd carry him there, all twelve blocks. When he caught sight of the slide he'd start to shout. Where's the ashtray in this car?"

It's under the dashboard. I pull out the base and hand it to her.

"Then David got sick, when he was that age, more or less, about six years ago. It was a difficult time. I'd started working at Sotomayor's farm. It was the first job I'd worked in my life. I did the accounting, which really wasn't anything like accounting. I just filed papers and helped him add, but it kept me entertained. I went around town on errands, all dressed up. It's different for you, coming from the capital, but around here you need an excuse for a little glamour, and the job was the perfect pretext."

"What about your husband?"

"Omar bred horses. Yes, that's right. He was a different guy back then, Omar."

"I think I saw him yesterday when Nina and I were out walking. He drove by in the pickup, but when we waved he didn't wave back."

"Yes, that's Omar these days," says Carla, shaking her head. "When I met him he still smiled, and he bred racehorses. He kept them on the other side of town, past the lake, but when I got pregnant he moved everything to where we are now. Our house used to be my parents'. Omar said that when he hit it big, we'd be loaded and we could redo everything. I wanted to carpet the floors. Yes, it's crazy living where I do, but oh, I really wanted it. Omar had two spectacular mares that had given birth to a couple of big winners. They'd been sold and were running races—still do—at Palermo and San Isidro. Later, two more fillies were born, and a colt; I don't remember any of their names. To do well in that business you have to have a good stallion, and Omar got hold of the best. He fenced in part of the land for the mares, built a corral behind it for the foals, planted alfalfa, and then he could take his time building the stable. The deal was that Omar would borrow the stallion for two or three days, and later, when the foals were sold, a fourth of the money went to the stallion's owner. That's a lot of money, because if the stallion is good and the foals are well taken care of, each of them goes for between 200,000 and 250,000 pesos. Anyway, one time we had that precious horse with us. Omar watched him all day long, followed him around like a zombie to keep track of how many times he mounted each mare. He wouldn't leave the house until I got back from Sotomayor's, and then it was my turn, though I would just take a look out the kitchen window at him every once in a while, as you can imagine. So one afternoon I'm washing the dishes and I realize I haven't seen the stallion in a while. I go to the other window, then to another that looks out behind the house, and nothing: the mares are there, but no sign of the stallion. I pick David up, who by then had taken his first steps and had been following me around the house that whole time, and I go outside. There's only so much searching you can do, either a horse is there or it's not. Evidently, for some reason he'd jumped the fence. It's rare, but it happens. I went to the stable praying to God he'd be there, but he wasn't. Then my eyes fell on the stream and I felt a spark of hope; it's small but it runs in a hollow, a horse could be drinking water and you wouldn't even see it from the house. I remember David asking what was happening. I was still carrying him, he was hugging my neck and his voice was clipped by the long strides I was taking, bouncing him side to side. 'There, Mom!' said David. And there was the stallion, drinking water from the stream. David doesn't call me Mom anymore. We went toward it, and David wanted me to put him down. I told him not to go near the horse, and I went toward the animal, taking short little steps. Sometimes he moved away, but I was patient, and after a while he started to trust me. I managed to get hold of the reins. It was such a relief, I remember it perfectly, I sighed and said out loud, 'If I lost you, I'd lose the house too, you jerk.' See, Amanda, this is like the finger I'd thought David was missing. You say, 'Losing the house would be the worst,' and later there are worse things and you would give the house and even your life just to go back to that moment and let go of the damned animal's reins."

On Sale
Mar 6, 2018
Page Count
192 pages