Title: The Fever
Author: Megan Abbott
No. of Pages: 320
Origins: Little, Brown, and Company
Release Date: 17 June 2014
Bottom Line: Fascinating look into the mob mentality
“The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hocky star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie’s best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.
As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town’s fragile idea of security.”
Thoughts: The Fever explores the phenomenon of mass hysteria and the mob mentality, for that is exactly what is occurring throughout the novel. Rumors fly, townspeople make assumptions based on those rumors, and panic exponentially builds as more girls fall prey to the contagion. Thanks to the constant connection associated with smartphones and the Internet, the speed at which the rumors evolve into “the truth” is frightening. For that reason, the story is also a telling commentary on the changing dynamics of social interaction. Gone are the days when word of mouth meant just that, and one quick tap of a key is enough to change a person’s life forever.
The Fever is a fast-paced and chilling book. While it is a character-driven story, over time the characters lose importance compared with the town’s reaction in general. Deenie is a forgettable character, as she too easily blends into the background of the ensuing chaos, while her friends are nothing more than a cross between Mean Girls and The Crucible teens, neither comparison a flattering one. The subplot surrounding Eli is a simple distraction. The same can be said about Tom’s story, although his version does have the added benefit of providing insight into the adult reactions. However, it is the panic and disorder throughout the town that hits its target with readers. What the contagion is as well as its origins are minor compared to the mass pandemonium that happens when the girls start getting sick. For a fascinating and terrifying modern-day study of mass hysteria and the mob mentality in the Internet era, one need look no further than Megan Abbott’s latest.
Special Treat: One of the more interesting aspects of the story I found was the girls and their rapid descent into hysteria. As part of the Vector Tour, I was privileged enough to be able to ask Ms. Abbott about just that and her inspiration for such a chillingly realistic portrayal of such panic. Here is my question and her response.
Q: The Fever is a story of small town hysteria—a classically American story, in many ways! Were you inspired by real-life events?
Yes—very loosely. In 2012, there was this case in upstate New York of these high school girls all experiencing these baffling tics and twitches. It eventually affected eighteen young women, and caused an understandable panic in the school and community but it also became a much larger news story, attracting the Today Show, CNN, Fox News. But I love what you say about a “classically American story.” That’s how I thought about it—going all the way back to Nathaniel Hawthorne, and I think that’s what so fascinated me about it. Once I started writing, it veered very far from the real-life case, but the fear and confusion in those girls’ faces really lingered with me.
I remember that story from 2012 and am impressed that she was able to draw inspiration from it! I’m also curious if anyone has personal experience with hysteria of this type. Just how common is it?
Another Special Treat: As part of the Vector Tour, I am able to offer a reader (US or Canada only) one copy of Megan Abbott’s fantastic new novel. Please leave a comment with your email address and please let me know if you have ever witnessed such hysteria in the flesh or been party to it yourself. Inquiring minds want to know! This giveaway will be open until Thursday, July 29th at 7 AM CDT. Good luck!
Please feel free to check out the rest of the tour and see what other goodies Ms. Abbott has for fans!