Megan Abbott is the Edgar-winning author of the novels QUEENPIN, THE SONG IS YOU, DIE A LITTLE, BURY ME DEEP, THE END OF EVERYTHING and DARE ME. This is her latest book, and it’s sure to cause the same amount of buzz as her previous work.
Abbott likes dark (as do I). She is, perhaps, the queen of female-centered noir and like DARE ME, this book focuses on the swamp, Gothic murk of teenage girls. She also knows how to keep the tension mounting, the pages turning.
Torn from the headlines THE FEVER centers on the close-knit Nash family. Tom is a popular teacher, father to two teens: Eli, a hockey star over whom the girls in town drool, and his strait-arrow, somewhat innocent sister, Deenie. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie’s best friend Lise is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure during class. Deenie and two other members of her circle, uber-popular Gabby and white-haired witchy Skye, live at the eye of the storm, as rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread from the school to the community to the media and police as more girls fall ill.
Rumors abound. It’s the recent HPV vaccine the girls got. It’s asbestos. It’s the lake, which has, for reasons that are never revealed, turned into a mess of strange algae. Or maybe it’s sex.
As hysteria swells more girls begin convulsing, vomiting, having hallucinations and landing in the emergency ward.
Abbott was obviously inspired by recent events in Le Roy, N.Y. where more than a dozen students, mostly girl, at the same high school developed uncontrollable spasms and Tourette’s-like tics. She’s done a fine job of taking fact and enlarging it for fiction, delving down into the psyche of her characters to explore the mystery of adolescence, particularly as it effects young people with — to varying degrees — traumatic pasts.
While Abbot is terrific at engaging the reader, the book is not without flaws. She has chosen a multiple point of view structure, and I do mean multiple. Tom, Deenie, Eli, Gabby, Lise… This wouldn’t be so much of a problem except the passages are short, so that the the point of view shifts every few paragraphs, or so it seems. Perhaps a couple of pages. It’s unsettling, and this may have been Abbott’s intention, but having to relocate oneself every few pages in the head of another character means the reader is never quite able to simply let the story unfold, to slide down deeply into the narrative. I’m not convinced it was a necessary structure. Had she chosen two perspectives, say Deenie and her father, I think she would have been able to reveal all the information necessary to the plot and to character development. She would have had to do it a little more subtly than she did, of course, because she wouldn’t have had the easy-access pass to all the other perspectives, but it might have been an even more compelling read.
I do appreciate the fact that not all the dots are connected at the end of the book, and the scope of Abbott exploration. This is the first of Abbot’s books I’ve read. I’m sure it won’t be the last.