Friday, May 10, 2013

Review: Fever

Fever
By Mary Beth Keane
Scribner March 2013
306 pages
From the library

Fever

In 1907, a cook is dragged away from her place of employment. She is a young Irish immigrant working in the kitchen of a wealthy family. A doctor has determined that she may be the cause of an outbreak of typhoid fever that has claimed the lives of several of her employers. Mary Mallon can't believe that she can be the cause - she has never had typhoid fever. But Mary is forcibly removed and made to live in quarantine on an island of tuberculosis patients. She finally finds a lawyer who will fight her case. Can she be cut off from society forever because of a disease that has never made her sick?

While Keane's book is a novelization, Typhoid Mary was a real person who lived in New York City in the early part of the twentieth century. She was isolated for years by the Department of Health who identified her as the first healthy carrier of typhoid fever. Historically, she has been remembered as a crazy woman who fought the health officials every step of the way. When she was finally released, it was with the condition that she never cook again....an edict which she flagrantly ignored. Keane imagines what Mary might have been like, creating a woman who doesn't understand the way disease is spread and can't imagine a life where she does not pursue her passion to cook. 

The story jumps around a bit in order to give us a really full picture of Mary's life. While moving around in time can sometimes be confusing, it works very well in this case. The first chapter begins with Mary being removed from the house where she works and quarantined. We observe her anguish in quarantine as she misses her boyfriend and wonders when she will be released. When she begins working with her lawyer, she recalls the events that brought her to this point. It is here that we learn of her long journey from Ireland to America and the way in which she worked her way up to become a cook, as she had always dreamed of doing.

Fever is an engaging read. Keane has provided a new angle to the story of a woman who had no power over her own life. In our modern age, this type of treatment would create huge outrage. But because Mallon was an immigrant, an unmarried woman, and a servant, few people were willing to fight for her. Mary is a fascinating character, in part because of her stubborn nature and fierce temper. Reading this book will give you new insight into New York of long ago, the history and evolution of medicine, and one woman who was vilified for all of time. 

10 comments:

  1. I wish everyone in the world would read this. Before, when I thought of Typhoid Mary, I thought ewww. I didn't have the first clue about what really happened. That poor woman :(

    I'm glad you liked this one!

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    1. I know! It's easy to think of her as a villain, but I think Keane did a great job of showing the story is much more complicated than that.

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  2. The cover makes this look like some weird sex romp...but it sounds really interesting!

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    1. The cover is decidedly bizarre. I don't think it really indicates what the book is about or makes me want to pick it up!

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  3. You should only know I've been checking this blog daily to see if you gave birth yet! I take it not :) Keep reading and posting while you can - and of course, good luck!

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    1. When you wrote this comment, baby girl had been out in the world for about 10 minutes. :)
      I scheduled this post ahead of time!

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  4. This sounds fascinating. I've always wondered about the story behind "Typhoid Mary."

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    1. I love reading about historical figures and I knew so little about this one!

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  5. This sounds like quite a good read! I definitely want to check this one out! Great review :)

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    1. Thank you! I hope you enjoy it. :)

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