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Finalist, 2017 Balcones Fiction prize
Kim O’Neil’s debut collection, Fever Dogs, is a fictional biography of three generations of women. It begins at the turn of the twenty-first century with Jean, a young woman at an impasse. Romantically adrift, in a dying profession, she decides that to make herself a future, she must first make herself a past.
To deal with a violent history, Jean’s mother has violently erased it. Starting from a bare outline that includes an unspoken death, a predatory father, and a homeless stint, Jean reconstructs the life her mother, Jane, might have lived. But origin stories can never completely cover their tracks: like Jean’s story, Jane’s cannot be told apart from that of her own mother.
What follows is a set of stories spanning nearly a century in response to questions the narrator wishes she had asked her mother and to which she has disjointed answers at best. In the absence of answers, the narrator, in various points of view, invents them. As the stories progress backward in time, the footholds in fact grow fewer and the shift to fabulism greater. But in her attempt to unravel her mother's origin and her own, Jean finds that the stories she invents—like the dogs who run through them as witnesses, allies, and objects of desire—serve as well as any other in the makeshift task of authoring a life.
About the Author
KIM O’NEIL is a senior lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago and assistant director of the Writing Center. She has an M.F.A. from UC Irvine.
"Seven interconnected stories plumb the murky depths of a family history in O’Neil’s debut collection.... Rooted in the mostly real geography of Massachusetts across the 20th century, O’Neil’s stinging stories of unremarkable adulthoods create a resounding, hollow feeling where love and hope could have been." —Publishers Weekly
"In this fever dream of the family romance, time is malleable and deforms and darkens tales of preceding generations back to the root Mother, a caulbearer, whose bequest of second sight is brilliantly reimagined in Kim O’Neil’s percussively composed and compressed stories of successive generations. Kim O’Neil is on fire in this daring, inventive fiction, her debut, the first match struck." —Christine Schutt, author of of Prosperous Friends
“Fever Dogs is a stunning collection of stories—each one tightly wound and glimmering with mysterious force. The writing is brilliant. It’s very affecting to go back in time and see the throughlines that cross generations and continue to strangle.”—Elizabeth McKenzie, author of Stop That Girl: A Novel in Stories and The Portable Veblen: A Novel
"A fevered family history found buried in a back yard box, scribbled by some half-mad, most-lucid family remnant none would now dare claim. O’Neil’s stories are like none other I’ve seen, brought out of some place I’ve never been outside of the dream world I can never fully recall upon waking. Beautiful, chilling, strangely moving work.” —Brad Watson, author of Miss Jane: A Novel
"Each time I opened Fever Dogs I discovered lines and paragraphs and images so glorious, so achingly perfect, that I wanted to read them aloud to everyone nearby. This book is a parade of gifts." —Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and A Guide to Being Born
"Wry, funny and quietly devastating, these stories are a pleasure to read even as they twist the heart. Fans of Eileen Myles and Mary Gaitskill will find much to admire here." —Emily Gould, author of Friendship
"The idea that animates Fever Dogs?—?that the past is not really past and is always with us, etc.,—?is a familiar one, but O’Neil’s way of dealing with it makes it new again. By telling the story of a family in endlessly recursive vignettes, she makes the stakes of both the present day stories and the historical ones personal and familiar: it becomes clear that the same kinds of ghosts haunt all families. Universal and deeply specific, strange and familiar, Fever Dogs is the rare kind of collection that has the sustained intensity and connectedness of the best novels. And with it, Kim O’Neil announces herself as a writer of near-supernatural power." —Electric Literature