State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett
There is something hypnotic about this book. Normally the premise wouldn’t appeal to me; a pharmacy company sends one of its doctors into the Brazilian Amazon to check on the research progress of a miracle drug. Nothing in that sounds like something I’d love, but since it was written by Ann Patchett it was an absolute must for me. I haven’t loved all of her books, but I have enjoyed most of them a loved a few. That being said, I dove into this one with some reservations that I soon discovered were completely unfounded.
Dr. Marina Singh finds out that her colleague Anders Eckman has died in Brazil after being sent by their company to find the illusive Dr. Annick Swenson. Singh finds herself in the strange position of being sent to confirm Eckman’s death and finish the job he started. The novel is slow going, its pages sometimes feeling as heavy as the humidity in that tropical culture. Nothing is rushed and yet Patchett draws you in with a heady mixture of curiosity and dread. The writing in so enthralling that it’s almost easy to forget the plot in favor of discovering each new paragraph as its own entity.
The book has aptly been compared to Heart of Darkness, but unlike that novel I cared much more deeply about the characters in this one. The cold and practical Dr. Swenson was one of the most fascinating characters I’ve come across in a long time. In fact it was my love for some of those relationships that made me struggle with the ending. I didn’t dislike it; it was just hard to process.
I also want to note that everyone was right and the audio version. It’s read by Hope Davis and it was incredible. I’m not sure I would have loved it as much if I’d just read a hardcopy the first time around.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s a beautiful book and I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about these characters for a long time. It’s hard to explain exactly why it’s so powerful, but I will be trusting in Patchett’s storytelling ability as long as she is writing.
p.s. When I was reading this I found out that Patchett will be the speaker for this year’s Marian McFadden Memorial Lecture! I’m so excited I’ll get to hear her speak this month!