Friday, September 30, 2011

Review: State of Wonder

State of Wonder
By Ann Patchett
Harper June 2011

Marina Singh is a pharmaceutical researcher awaiting the return of her lab partner and friend Anders Eckman. He has gone to retrieve the reclusive, but brilliant, Dr. Annick Swenson who is creating a miracle fertility drug in the Amazon. When Marina receives a letter telling her that Anders is dead, she is devastated. She goes to break the news to Ander’s widow Karen, accompanied by Mr. Fox, the company’s president and her secret lover. Karen confides in Marina that she believes her husband is still alive. When Mr. Fox asks her to go and complete Ander’s mission to find Dr. Swenson and report on her progress, Marina agrees to go, if only to find out what really happened to her friend and give closure to his grieving widow.

A brief aside - I love Ann Patchett. She is one of my favorite authors…ever. I have read all of her fiction and was extremely excited when I learned that another book would be published this year. That being said, this was not my favorite of hers. While I enjoyed it, I couldn’t shake this feeling of distance from the characters and the action.

Ms. Patchett is a genius at the casual twist of story. You think you know what is happening and where the plot is going, but then a character happens to reveal that nothing is as you thought. Her characters are immensely rich – relatable, but unique and interesting. Patchett’s writing, as always, is lyrical. Her stories? I firmly believe that you could give Ann Patchett any setting and any character and she could write something beautiful.

There is a lot of battle here between the changing beliefs and ethics of the researchers in their search to find a drug that will allow women to have children well past the usual age of menopause. Marina and the reader find themselves reevaluating beliefs. What does Marina owe to the pharmaceutical company that she works for? What do they owe to the Lakashi people they are working among?

There is an aura of magic that follows Marina through the Amazon. To go from the sterile lab of her company in the snowbound state of Minnesota to the lush jungles with ritualistic cultures gives a sort of otherworldly feel to the novel.

In comparison with books at large, this is a great read – the characters are engaging, and the story will keep you flipping pages late into the night. But in comparison with other Patchett novels, it’s not the strongest. 

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