The minutes she stepped into the musty wind of the tropical air-conditioning, Marina Smelled her own wooliness. She pulled off her light spring coat and then the zippered cardigan beneath it, stuffing them into her carry-on where they did not begin to fit, while every insect in the Amazon lifted its head from the leaf it was masticating and turned a slender antenna in her direction. She was a snack place, a buffet line, a woman dressed for springtime in the North.
I have been wanting to read a novel by Ann Patchett for quite some time, and so I was really excited to take the opportunity to read for this TLC TOUR of the her latest book. I had read Patchett's excellent mini-memoir about writing, The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life, which I highly recommend. From reading that short piece, I knew that when I picked up her latest book, what I would find inside would be the lush, decadent writing that had hooked me the last time. And that is what I found.
State of Wonder begins with a letter, announcing the death of a pharmacologist, Anders Eckman, on a research expedition to the Amazon. The letter is vague and mysterious, and sets the tone for the whole book. Marina Singh, another pharmacologist in the same lipids lab as Eckman, is given the onerous task of going after him, not so much in hopes of finding him, or even really in hopes of learning more about his death, but mostly because someone must gather the information that the pharmaceutical company employing them is looking for. Out there, somewhere deep in the jungle, one Dr. Swenson, has made a miraculous discovery: a tribe of people whose women remain fertile into their seventies and beyond. So, Marina is sent to look after her companies' investment.
There are obvious echoes of Heart of Darkness in the book, not only thematically, and in the setting, but in the lushness and beauty of Patchett's writing that I mentioned before. Unlike Conrad's protagonist, Marina is a character with much more depth than Marlowe, with conflicting desires and obligations. Patchett also takes more time, and allows her non-native characters to merge more with jungle, perhaps with, perhaps without the insanity suffered by Kurtz. The story is filled with ambiguity, with a sense of the impossibility of resolution, but also with a strange sense of hope and a message about resiliency. Mostly, and I can't really overemphasize this, the writing is enchanting. Patchett is brilliant in the way she contrasts the worlds that Marina inhabits, and how she orchestrates the transitions in and out of her environments. I fell into the rhythm of the reading of this book, and I never felt disrupted or disappointed. Highly recommended: this is not the last I will read of Patchett.
Title: State of WonderAuthor: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Literary Fiction
Where I got it: From the publisher through TLC Book Tours, and I already owned a copy
Challenges: Mount TBR Challenge