||Megan Abbott has for knack of creating situations that are irresistibly alluring; I read last year’s gloriously seductive DARE ME on the basis of a very brief blurb. A CWA Steel Dagger shortlisted crime thriller with a pyramid of hard-boiled cheerleaders in crisis at its centre - count me in. It was a cool, confident display of ruthless teenage competitive spirit and emotions on the edge. The bitchy banter and cruel glamour of the girls’ competitive physicality created deliciously dark scenery as Abbott’s characters twisted themselves into uncomfortable contortions. Secrets and lies, twists in the tails and stabs in the back kept me gripped from page one. When Abbott’s newest novel was announced I was desperate to catch The Fever.
Back within the claustrophobic confines of high school and all its hysteria, Abbott has swapped noir for disturbia in this unsettling story of a highly strung student body on the brink of breakdown when a mystery illness descends on a very public platform. An entire class witness the first traumatic seizure as overnight beauty Lise clatters from her chair, foaming at the mouth as her body revolts in angry spasms. Panic spreads quickly; parents, teachers and students are manic and mystified, the community is crawling with wild theories. Girls share scare stories between bathroom stalls and local YouTube is ablaze with shocking footage. Caught in the middle is Deenie, daughter of a teacher at school and sister to the high school heartthrob - her world is shaken by this terrifying unknown unknown.
Abbott’s sticking with secrets and lies, gossip and greed, pressure and popularity: what it means to be young and impressionable, head-strong and heart-driven, desperately naïve and deathly dangerous. Despite some luxurious language, languorous flashbacks and climactic cinematic scenes (the seizures are particularly visceral) there is a sense of urgency that drives Deenie’s story forward at a furious pace taking the reader with her, as if we too are in danger of the fever striking again before the mystery is solved. I particularly loved how peripheral characters were assigned their own quirks, the town took on a Lynchian appeal; each home housing their own dark stories with a frantic, feral terror running throughout. A dangerously sticky slice of unsettling Americana, Abbott’s vision is intoxicating and tempting; a Twin Peaks High story that could captivate a crossover audience.