These Fictional Works Should Come With a Medical Thermometer

Some novels and short stories deserve an “F”…for “feverish.”

Yes, those works are so intense that the “F” word seems totally appropriate, even if the characters’ body temperatures remain at 98.6. The fear they might face is palpable, death might be lurking around the corner, their words and feelings might be anguished or impassioned, the march to the conclusion might leave you breathless, etc.

I read one such novel last week: Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s compelling The Insulted and Injured, which is filled with fervent, vehement thoughts and conversations from Vanya, Natasha, and others as they navigate tumultuous relationships and more. Heck, the book’s characters act so feverishly that several of them literally get sick from all their emotional turmoil. (A scene from the novel is pictured above.)

Of course, the much-better-known Crime and Punishment and its Raskolnikov protagonist are so intense that readers might feel like dropping that amazing Dostoyevsky novel like a hot frying pan. Plus first-time C&P readers have a fierce curiosity about whether Raskolnikov’s double murder will be discovered, what the penalty would be, and whether Raskolnikov and Sonya will end up together.

The sheer physical and/or psychological violence of some novels — and wondering who might survive — can certainly dial up the fever meter. Examples include Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, etc.), Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men, Stephen King’s Misery, and Frank Bill’s Donnybrook, to name a few.

Oh, and virtually all of the Jack Reacher novels conclude with almost unbearably suspenseful chapters as Lee Child’s roaming protagonist tries to mete out justice.

Then there are riveting revenge novels, such as Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

And novels that deal intensely with social issues — like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Richard Wright’s Native Son, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

And dystopian novels — such as Butler’s Parable of the Sower, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Albert Camus’ The Plague. (The Handmaid’s Tale fits this category, too.)

And novels claustrophobically set in close quarters, like the ship in Martin Cruz Smith’s memorable Gorky Park sequel Polar Star.

And novels that are ultra-intense romantically — as in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, and Emile Zola’s The Beast in Man.

Also, short stories can obviously pack a lot of feverishness into their relatively small number of pages. Examples of these works include — among many others — Atwood’s “Stone Mattress,” Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” Leo Tolstoy’s “The Kreutzer Sonata,” Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno,” Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Aleph,” and many Edgar Allan Poe creations — such as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

Which novels and short stories have been the most intense for you?

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest weekly piece — a goofy look at how to reach a school’s upper floors without stairs or an elevator — is here.