Thursday, July 7, 2011
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
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.