April 2024


By Toby Lloyd
Review by
Toby Lloyd’s voice is practiced, smart and spellbinding, making Fervor a book that fans of family dramas and horror stories alike will happily devour.
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There is a daring hybrid quality to Toby Lloyd’s Fervor, a sense of branching interests that might doom another, less focused book. In his debut novel, Lloyd explores a wide array of emotional and philosophical topics, from the influence of God to the duties of a memoirist to the characteristic wrinkles of family dysfunction. In the process, he also merges a family saga with a coming-of-age story, a metaphysical exploration and even an outright horror novel. It’s a lot to pack into less than 300 pages, but Lloyd pulls it off, announcing himself as an exciting voice to watch. 

Fervor follows the Rosenthal family, a devout Jewish household rocked by the loss of their patriarch, Yosef, a Holocaust survivor who’s recently divulged his life story to his daughter-in-law Hannah, the family’s resident writer. Every member of the family—from Yosef’s son, Eric, to his grandsons, Gideon and Tovyah—has their own feelings about Hannah’s project, but in the end it’s Yosef’s granddaughter, Elsie, who is impacted the most. After her grandfather dies, Elsie starts to act out, visibly suffering in ways that frustrate her teachers and her parents. When Elsie suddenly disappears one day, then reappears in a disheveled, dazed state, Hannah suspects that something supernatural has entered her daughter, upsetting the family’s balance of power and threatening their sanity.

Lloyd frames the story of Elsie’s unraveling in several ways, ranging from third-person storytelling that looms over the entire family, to Hannah’s written account, to sections from the point of view of Tovyah’s college friend, who witnesses the Rosenthals’ strangeness firsthand. In spreading the story out across these perspectives, and even across years of family history, Lloyd invites readers to ask whose version of the narrative is actually the truth. Hannah’s presence as the family’s self-appointed chronicler adds to the dramatic tension, propelling events forward with her ferocious longing for secret knowledge that heightens the stakes of the book’s questions of faith and reason.

But even beyond the structural cleverness and the way it plays with perspective, Fervor succeeds on the strength of Lloyd’s elegant, confident language. The book is driven by a constant push-pull between the sacred and secular, and Lloyd’s prose reflects that with sentences that feel like they could simultaneously conjure up a spirit and captivate a very human audience. His voice is practiced, smart and spellbinding, making Fervor a book that fans of family dramas and horror stories alike will happily devour.

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By Toby Lloyd
Avid Reader
ISBN 9781668033333

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