Fever is a fictionalized account of the real-life “Typhoid Mary”, who was the first known healthy human carrier of typhoid. She was a cook in New York City in the early 1900s and transmitted the disease through her cooking. Because she refused to stop cooking, she was held in quarantine for the majority of her adult life.
The novel is very well written and makes Mary feel human and real. In the book she is a sympathetic character who is treated harshly in part because of her class – the doctors make little effort to really help her understand the risk when she cooks, and instead lock her up. She of course rebels since she doesn’t fully understand and is not willing to accept that she could make people sick. Keane conveys her confusion and reactions to the accusations that she is transmitting typhoid in a realistic and believable manner.
Additionally, Keane adds a love story element. She portrays a complex and troubled relationship between Mary and her long-time lover (but not husband). One that thing I really enjoy about Keane’s writing is that all of her characters are complex and three-dimensional, with the result that they are sympathetic while also sometimes making poor choices.
In the end, though, I did not love Fever as much as I did Keane’s first book, The Walking People. I never felt as wholly drawn into the world as I did with her first book. Additionally the storyline was more linear and simpler, and overall the book was a bit depressing.