Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Sunday, March 6, 2016

"State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett

I wasn't especially interested in the subject matter here (scientists in the Amazon) but my opinion of Patchett's writing is high enough that I was able to overcome my distaste for the bugs and the humidity and the mud of the jungle. And I was not disappointed.

Dr Annick Swenson has spent years researching the fertility of the Lakashi tribe in Brazil. The pharmaceutical company that employs her sends Dr Anders Eckman to get an update from the uncommunicative Swenson . . . and he ends up dead. Now it's up to his coworker, Dr Marina Singh, to find out what is going on. (And by the way, this is much less of a murder mystery/detective novel than my synopsis makes it sound; it trends more towards The Poisonwood Bible without missionaries.)

Though I did find myself quite thankful that the plot didn't actually move to the jungle until about halfway through the book, once "we" got there, it wasn't as bad as I expected. I suppose my indifference to the jungle is due in part to its strangeness to me--it seems too foreign for me to relate--but it's also in large part because the thought of being there damages my pride. I know that I would not handle the jungle well. I would not be capable and tenacious. I would not adapt and rise to the occasion. I would wilt and be discouraged and cry. I would be crabby and irritable and a nightmare to be around. But Patchett, though her writing made the setting feel real and immediate, magically allowed me to read about the jungle without feeling like I was suffering for it. I didn't feel detached from the story, but somehow it managed to not subject me to discomfort. And, just as I found in Run, there were surprises and plot twists that crept up and were suddenly just THERE without manipulating my emotions or annoying me with obviousness. Some scenes (especially one towards the end of chapter 8) were so powerful that I had to put the book down and take a deep breath before going on. I am amazed at Patchett's ability to convey such intensity while remaining relatively subtle and understated.