Wednesday, May 16, 2012

STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett

I love being able to gush about a book.  This one has an exotic location, menacing situations, a reluctant heroine, and an elusive nemesis.  Marina Singh is a lab researcher for a pharmaceutical company.  The CEO, her lover, whom she continues to refer to as Mr. Fox, has just come to her office bearing a letter from Brazil.  Marina's colleague, Anders Eckman, has been in the Amazon for several months trying to convince Dr. Annick Swenson to divulge the status of her research or come home.  Swenson is arrogant and uncooperative and appears to be content to spend company money ad infinitum with no accountability for what she may or may not have accomplished thus far.  The aforementioned letter from Swenson perfunctorily states that Eckman is dead.  Eckman's widow and Mr. Fox persuade Marina, a former student of Swenson's, to travel to Brazil to find out what is going on.  Thus begins Marina's big adventure, beginning with the seemingly impossible task of finding Swenson via a Bohemian couple in Manaus, who have been charged with protecting Swenson's privacy.  Marina appears at first to be thoroughly inept, especially when it comes to keeping up with her belongings.  As the story unfolds, though, we realize that her talents and gumption serve her well in a hostile and unfamiliar environment.  Reviewers have compared this book to Heart of Darkness, a novel which I didn't like at all.  I found this to be more in the vein of David Grann's The Lost City of Z, a nonfiction book about a journalist, also unsuited to the jungle, who travels into the wild to find a long lost explorer.  Patchett's novel brims with complicated relationships, all of which involve Marina, who both fears and admires Swenson, whose lofty attitude is initially condescending.  Ultimately, though, Swenson, along with Mr. Fox, Mrs. Eckman, and a deaf boy named Easter all come to lean on Marina for their salvation.  How she bears up under such crushing responsibility is the stuff of a thoroughly entertaining story.

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