Thursday, July 7, 2011

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett


Synopsis:

Dr. Marina Singh, who quit during her residency to go work for a pharmaceutical company, is a woman who has been hiding form her past and not quite living int the present.  When her boss and lover, Mr. Fox, sends her to the rain forest of the Amazon delta to discover the fate of her former colleague and friend, Anders Eckman, she has no inkling of the journey that lays ahead of her.


Marina is going to be forced to make decisions she's not comfortable with, face the past, and deal with the present in a way she hasn't done before.  She must now deal with Dr. Annick Swenson, her idol in college and her residency.  A doctor that was hard to please then and resents interlopers now.  Marina must get to the bottom of what happened to Anders and what exactly is going on in the research being conducted by Dr. Swenson.

 I have never read Ann Patchett before State of Wonder, though I have read many reviews of her books, all of them glowing.  All I knew going into this was that people I trust think she is an amazing writer.  After reading this one, I would have to say that I agree with that.  There is such a lushness to her writing that I found it easy to get lost in the story.  That sense of immersion is what made me love this book and have a slight regret for reading it.  I finished it three days ago and I'm still trying to digest what it was that I read and how I'm still reacting to it.

I can't think about this book without being a little sad.  Marina is such an emotionally damaged character that I can't help but feel sorry for her.  She quit a promising career in gynecology/obstetrics after an accident left her doubting her ability.  She changes to pharmacology, a decision that will keep her from ever having to deal with patients, and ends up working for a pharmaceutical company where she studies cholesterol.  When the aerogram from Brazil comes and announces the death of Dr. Eckman in the jungles of the Amazon basin, Marina reacts to it but there is still an emotional disconnect.  She is the one that Mr. Fox takes with him to brake the news to the wife.  A wife Marina never got to know despite the length of time she worked with Dr. Eckman or how close they became in the lab.  Up to this point Marina has held everyone at arms length.  She can't even call her lover by his first name.  Throughout the book, she simply calls him Mr. Fox.

When Mr. Fox and Karen Eckman finally convince Marina to go down to Brazil to discover what happened to Anders, she must confront the past in order to deal with what is going on.  She never really wakes up as a person until she has been at the jungle lab for a few weeks.  She starts to make connections with the doctors, members of the Lakashi tribe that the researchers are studying, but most importantly with a young boy named Easter.  What cemented this idea in my head is that she starts using people's first names, they no longer  are just Dr. or Mr. or a number.  She even uses Mr. Fox's first name in a few letters back to him.  I don't think Marina is ever happier that when she was in the jungle, even though she tried everything she could to convince herself of the opposite.

It's that awakening of the human soul that makes the ending of this book so tragic for me.  While I guess you could call the ending a "happy" one, I'm not so sure about that.  The ending takes place at such a frantic pace that I don't think Marina is thinking anymore, she's just reacting and going with the flow.  She stops growing and almost becomes the stunted human being she was in the beginning.  I would like to think that Dr. Swenson's prediction of what Marina will do happens.  I would like to think that she will return to the research lab and take over for Dr. Swenson once she is gone.  I would like to think that the decision to leave someone behind to save someone else, will weigh on her mind and force her to go back.  I would like to think that actions of the last 15 pages don't have consequences that none of them saw coming.  I would like to think that Rapps falling into the river will simply disappear and not start a war between tribes.  I have so many hopes for what happens after the book ends, but I'm afraid some of those hopes will be dashed.  I have a sinking feeling that once Marina is back in Minnesota that she will find herself walling people off once again.  I think she will continue to make bad decisions for herself.  I hope she doesn't, I hope I'm wrong.  I hope in a few years, Dr. Marina Singh will be living the life she deserves.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  Please visit the tour page to read other thoughts on this one.

14 comments:

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds so fantastic from all the great reviews (like yours). I just need to slot it in soon!

bermudaonion said...

This book did give me a lot to think about, but I didn't love it as much as you did.

Blodeuedd said...

The name sounds really familiar so I guess I have seen her books around before. I also guess I did not pay much attention to them

wordsandpeace said...

Thanks for your great review. I also just posted a combined review of Bel Canto and State of Wonder. I have something there on the endings as well.
http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/bell-canto-and-state-of-wonder/
Emma @ Words And Peace

StephanieD said...

I keep meaning to pick this book up, but I've yet to get around to it. It sounds like Marina's character really resonated with you and that you thought about her outside the confines of the book.

Staci said...

I love your enthusiasm for this one and how you read this because of trusted book bloggers. I have YET to read one of her books but now I guess I'm going to have to experience this for myself!! Lovely review!

Julie @ Knitting and Sundries said...

What a wonderful review! I've had this on one my wishlist since I first saw it; I definitely think it will have to be part of my next round of book-buying!

Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

I was just discussing this with a library co worker who has read it and loved it! I have never read her either. Thanks for your review

heathertlc said...

I haven't read Patchett yet myself but I'm pretty sure that I'll love this book.

Thanks for being on the tour Ryan!

Michelle @ The True Book Addict said...

Though I own several of her books, sadly I haven't read her either. But I know she is well loved. I know that this book sounds like one I would really like. Very good review, Ryan.

Simcha said...

I haven't read any of Patchett's books before but after listening to an interview with her on NPR I've really been wanting to. Though knowing that the book ends on a less-than happy note makes me a bit weary of reading it (yes, I admit that I like all my endings to be happy ones). But perhaps I'll give it a try anyways.

Ceri said...

What a great sounding story. Genuinely sounds like something I wouldn't mind reading myself. Thanks for the review, Ryan. :)

theoncominghope said...

I really enjoyed the novel, but I had a big problem with Marina's character. She was kind of a blank slate at best.

My thoughts are here: http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2011/07/state-of-wonder.html

Brasil said...

Ann Patchett has done it again. State of Wonder is written with the beautiful, descriptive style that I fell in love with in Bel Canto. Her story is that of Marina, a medical doctor turned pharmacologist working in the safety of a lab until she gets pushed into the heart of the Brazilian jungle. She is sent to find out the details of her lab partner's death while finishing his work of uncovering the truth about the progress of an expedition that has been sent to develop a new drug. Progress that the scientists have been unwilling to share with the drug company funding their research. While there, she has the opportunity to work with her awe-inspiring former professor who forces her to refresh her rusty skills as an MD/obstetrician. Through the course of the story, Marina is absolved of half a lifetime of guilt, while finding the truth about both her partner's death and the real purpose for the scientists' secrecy. Interwoven with the tension, is the relative peacefulness of tribal life with the Lakashi people, the terrifying dangers of jungle life that only come out when they are least expected, and the lingering pain and longing over lost fathers. And with every bend of the river or turn of the path, Patchett gently prods us to consider the consequences of our "civilized" desires and actions.