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.