Monday, May 30, 2011

State of Wonder

State of Wonder
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, Harper, June 2011

...this is a good yarn that I believe readers will embrace and enjoy

A Minnesota physician, Marina Singh working for a big pharmaceutical company is sent by the CEO Jim Fox to the Amazon jungles to follow-up after the death of a colleague. The company has supported the unorthodox work of an obsessed researcher, Annick Swenson who has worked with a remote jungle tribe where the women maintain fertility well into their 70s. Singh has ties to all of the principals – she is lover to Jim Fox, colleague and friend to the dead employee and former student of Swenson. After cooling her heels with a couple of ex pat Australians in the Brazilian city of Manaus she finally is taken to the jungle research station. Then the fun begins. I don’t want to give away plot details here but while not exactly entirely believable from the scientific viewpoint, the story is credible.

This story has all of the elements of a good read – wonderfully described exotic setting in the jungles of Brazil; a story that is complex and contains enough plot twists to hold the reader’s attention; excellent character development that onion like leaves the reader knowing more and more about the principals and lastly a denouement that is very well done. For me what keeps this latest Ann Patchett from the highest rating was the main character, Marina Singh. She is an unlikely adventure heroine with no end of unresolved issues. She had an absent father who continues to haunt her dreams (a bit too many nightmares in my opinion), professional insecurities, and a love affair to which she has only a half hearted commitment. She careens from long periods of inaction into wonder woman like live saving fetes (beheading a 15 ft. anaconda with a machete, performing C-sections with shoe horns, facing down cannibals). Patchett allows her to face her demons and develop into a plausible heroine but in the end her character has a certain flatness to it that I couldn’t get beyond. The author does leave some ambiguous hope for a brighter future for Singh in the ending though. Don’t take this minor criticism as a negative, this is a good yarn that I believe readers will embrace and enjoy. I expect to see it widely read on the beach this summer.

I read a copy of this book provided by the Amazon vine program.


Zibilee said...

This does sound like a really interesting read, and one that I might not have picked up had I not read your excellent review. Glad to hear that you liked it, and I am adding it to my wish list right away!

Julie said...

I've been wanting this one ever since I first saw it! Thanks for the great review!

Carole said...

This was an unusual book, with a strange group of characters and even stranger storyline (similar to Bel Canto). But somehow Ann Patchett makes a pretty good read out of it all, which I guess is a testament to her story telling skills. I read the last 1/2 of this as if it were a page-turner mystery - it had that kind of grip on me (and resulted in only 4 hours sleep last night! )
Not the best book I read this summer (that would be Matterhorn) but would recommend it for something completely different.