Ann Patchett •
State of Wonder •
Ann Patchett does brilliantly something that most novelists would be hard put to do at all. Page by page and detail by detail, she takes possession of your consciousness. The process is so masterfully subtle that afterward you can’t say at what point you crossed the line from reading the book to inhabiting it. Tree-chewing tribes come between you and the electric bill. Poisoned arrows zing past your head in the grocery store.
On the surface, none of the story elements hold any particular fascination for me. Amazonian rain forest—pharmaceutical experiments—fertility in older women—nope, no grabbers there. Yet I would wake in the night wondering what the hell was going to happen next.
Every member of the cast compels your attention. Marina Singh, who makes the journey to Brazil and up some unnamed river tributary, has had the course of her whole life changed by one long-ago misstep—a misstep redeemed decades later under the most unlikely of circumstances. Anders, her office mate in Minnesota, eats an egg salad sandwich every day for lunch. (“Don’t you read the reports on cholesterol?” Marina chides him. “I write the reports on cholesterol,” he answers.) Another scientist, Dr. Swenson, rules the odd collection of researchers with utter ruthlessness and cynicism.
But what has brought Marina to this remote location? Why is an eleven-year-old (or possibly twelve-year-old) deaf-mute sharing her cot? Who in his right mind would haul a live anaconda into a boat? And what’s with the obsessive hair grooming and body slapping? I can’t explain the magic behind any of this; you just have to read it for yourself.
State of Wonder strikes me as an especially apt title, because that’s where I was living the whole time I held this book in my hands.