|Christopher Fahy: Fever 42|
Connection Press (Hardcover), ISBN 1-892950-46-4
Every once in a while a novel comes along which jolts the senses so radically that it can be difficult for the reader to withdraw from the logic of the tale and return to the logic of the real world. Classic examples are Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and, perhaps most apropos, Luke Rinehart's The Dice Man. To that select number you can now add Christopher Fahy's Fever 42.
Comparisons with The Dice Man seem quite to the point. Despite their extravagant differences, the two books display a similar feel to their narratives. More particularly, the protagonists evidence a suicidal bent the reader only too willingly shares. The Dice Man delivers the more mind-twisting experience. Fever 42 gains its strength from being the more plausible and the more human. Where The Dice Man focused on the lunacy of permitting one's life to be governed entirely by chance, Fever 42 focuses on the lunacy born of understandable human failings.
Forty-two-year-old teacher Ted Wharton languishes in a so-so job and marriage. He loves his wife, of course he does, even if she exasperates him and their sex life invariably proves tedious. He loves his kids, of course he does, even if they're high-octane brats. And so on.
One of his students, class sex bomb Joy Dollinger, wrenches Ted out of his doldrums by aggressively seducing him and initiating a reckless affair. Though little more than a third of his age, she boasts far more sexual experience and delights in educating him in the wilder and more inventive practices she knows -- delights he never even dreamed existed.
They couple in seedy motels but more often in places where the possibility of discovery intensifies their exhilaration, most notably on school premises. His life becomes a maelstrom of porn videos and magazines, bizarre gadgetry…and excitement, the excitement he missed in his life for too long. Wharton goes through a midlife crisis par excellence.
Obviously, the situation also provides a recipe for disaster. The liaison cannot forever go undiscovered. Neither can the graphic polaroids and videos they made of each other in flagrante delicto more flagrant than the most flagrant delictos many of us ever attempted in the privacy of our own homes. Worse: Joy declares she loves Ted forever and persuades herself he plans to ditch his family and marry her. When he declines to do so, she starts manipulating him by threatening to reveal the truth to all -- particularly, of course, that she was legally underage when the boffing began.
Before that -- at least a hundred pages before Ted -- we know his life will be destroyed. We want him to stop his frantic rush toward catastrophe, and yet at the same time we know even more that stopping is the last thing we want him to do. Sure enough, the inevitable calamity comes to pass. But Fahy manages very beautifully -- without the slightest trace of cloy -- to give Ted a redemption of sorts.
Ribald, erotic, hilarious, deeply serious and tragic, often all at the same time, Fever 42 proves one of those rare books that restores our faith in the mainstream novel -- and strangely, in humanity.
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