Thursday, June 16, 2011

STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Dr. Marina Singh receives news that her colleague and friend, Anders Eckman, has died in the Amazon while checking on the work of a research field team lead by enigmatic researcher Anneck Swenson.  The aerogram leaves too many questions unanswered and Marina finds herself on her way to the Amazon to get answers for Anders' family as well as a report on the progress of the research team. The team is working on a fertility cure but progress seems to have stalled and Dr. Swenson refuses to cooperate with the powers that be.  When Marina arrives in the Amazon, she encounters cannibals, snakes, cultural barriers, heat, ethical dilemmas and, perhaps, a way to come to terms with the incident that forced her out of obstetrics and into pharmaceutical research so many years ago.

Ann Patchett is a truly gifted writer.  Once Marina arrives in Brazil, Patchett has a way of drawing you into her Amazonian adventures that make you feel as if you are right there beside Marina. The heat is palpable and the foreign nature of the entire situation is relayed in clever and effective ways. None of the main characters in the book are particularly likeable or sympathetic with the exception of a young boy named Easter adopted into the Lakashi tribe and, in some ways, by Dr. Swenson.  I appreciated the fact that the main characters of this book were women working in non-traditional roles. Their professional lives and the choices they have made bring to the forefront the significance of what the research team is searching for---a way to sustain fertility in women almost indefinitely. As the book progresses, readers are presented with a variety of ethical dilemmas relating to the work and situation that forces one to confront one's own thoughts and ideas on the subject.

As much as I appreciated the story and the quality of the writing, I found myself disconnected from the story.  I'm not sure if it was the fact that I found the characters unsympathetic and unlikeable or if I just had trouble with Patchett's narrative style. The subject matter and the questions that arise from it are excellent and thought-provoking so I have real mixed feelings about this book.  I feel this would be a good book club selection because it lends itself to lots of discussion. However, I didn't particuarly enjoy reading it.  I feel as conflicted as many of the characters in the story!!!

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations.  Beautifully written with an intriguing storyline but it fell flat for me.   Something was missing that I can't quite put my finger on. Still, there is much to like here and this is a book sure to generate discussion.


KnittingReader said...

I can't wait to hear what you think about it. I'm going to read it as soon as I finish my current book (Clara and Mr. Tiffany).

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I need to write my review on this one. I really liked it a lot, but I thought the characters were somewhat underdeveloped.