Review: State of Wonder

When I read Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto a number of years ago, I knew I’d found an author I would want to read more of. And it’s always a happy day when an author you love comes out with a new book. I wish I had read State of Wonder when I wasn’t toiling around at the writing desk trying to wring my own novel out of my head. I went to bed each night – the only time I have to read for pleasure – mentally drained. Two pages a night is NOT the way to read a book by someone whose work you admire. I didn’t love it as much as Bel Canto, but it is an amazing book nonetheless. Ann takes us to the jungles of Amazon with this one and I literally felt like I had the mosquito bites to prove I had been there when I turned the last page. 

Marina Singh is a doctor turned researcher; there’s an old wound that explains why she’s not practicing medicine. Her co-worker at their pharmaceutical company, Anders Eckman, dies in the Amazon jungle while checking on the progress of another colleague, Dr. Annick Swenson. Swenson is taking her sweet time developing a drug to nix the biological clock that ends women’s childbearing years. She’s been at it for a while and the CEO is itching to know when she will deliver the drug. Swenson doesn’t explain much in her letter about how Anders died, other than he had a fever, and says even less about her progress. Sympathizing with Anders’ widow and under pressure from the CEO (with whom she has an unhealthy relationship) Marina agrees to go to Brazil and bring Anders’ body back or at least see where he’s been buried, and do what Anders went there to do: get a read on Swenson’s progress.

Picture yourself leaving the safe, slow, managed world of the Twin Cities for the untamed universe of the Amazon and you can already guess there is no easy way to do what Marina sets out to do. Couple that premise with Ann Patchett’s amazing skill for creating setting and you’ll be thinking you need your passport to read this book. The details are so rich – especially a scene involving an anaconda – you’ll swear you’d been there and can’t wait to post your own pictures to Facebook. It’s that real.

I was hoping for a bit more character redemption for the heroine, Marina, who I’d come to admire by the book’s end. I think I need to read this one again sometime. Maybe she’s as happy as I want her to be at the end and I just missed the subtle proof of it. If going to the Amazon is on your bucket list but you’re too afraid to actually go (me, raising my hand), read State of Wonder. You won’t forget the trip.

Author: Susan

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