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Ship Fever: Stories Paperback – November 17, 1996
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In 1764, two Englishwomen set out to prove that swallows--contrary to the great Linnaeus's belief--do not hibernate underwater. But they must be patient and experiment in secret, such actions being inappropriate for the female of the species. In 1862, a hopeless naturalist heads off for yet another journey, though he can't seem to rid his conscience of the thousands of animals that have already died in his service. In 1971, a pregnant young woman, ill at ease with her socially superior husband and his stepchildren, hears of a Tierra del Fuegan taken hostage by the commander of the Beagle in 1835. This unwilling specimen was, we read, "captured, exiled, re-educated; then returned, abused by his family, finally re-accepted. Was he happy? Or was he saying that as a way to spite his captors? Darwin never knew."
Many of the characters who populate Andrea Barrett's National Book Award-winning collection, Ship Fever, feel similarly displaced in the world. They long to prove themselves in both science and love, but are often thwarted by gender, social position, or the prevailing order. In "The Behavior of the Hawkweeds," the wife of a genetics professor has learned that each narrative of discovery is matched by one, if not more, "in which science is not just unappreciated, but bent by loneliness and longing." Barrett's astonishing tales of ambition and isolation convey the meaning and feeling behind the patterns--scientific and emotional--but slip free of easy closure. The two women in "Rare Bird," like the swallows, depart England for more conducive climes, or so the brother of one believes. The reader is left to hope, and imagine. Much has been made of Andrea Barrett's interlacing of history, knowledge, and fact--and rightly so. But equal attention should be paid to the brilliant serenity and exactitude of her style. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
The quantifiable truths of science intersect with the less easily measured precincts of the heart in these eight seductively stylish tales. In the graphic title novella, a self-doubting, idealistic Canadian doctor's faith in science is sorely tested in 1847 when he takes a hospital post at a quarantine station flooded with diseased, dying Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. The story, which deftly exposes English and Canadian prejudice against the Irish, turns on the doctor's emotions, oscillating between a quarantined Irish woman and a wealthy Canadian lady, his onetime childhood playmate. In "The English Pupil," Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who brought order to the natural world with his system of nomenclature, battles the disorder of his own aging mind as he suffers from paralysis and memory loss at age 70. In "The Behavior of the Hawkweeds," a precious letter drafted by Austrian monk Gregor Mendel, who discovered the laws of heredity, reverberates throughout the narrator's marriage to her husband, an upstate New York geneticist. Barrett (The Forms of Water) uses science as a prism to illuminate, in often unsettling ways, the effects of ambition, intuition and chance on private and professional lives.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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What is particularly noteworthy about these stories are that each is framed within a fascinating history of science context. Because of this unique feature, the book lends itself very well to an unusual type of book discussion group.
Our discussion sessions were two hours in length and each one centered on one story only. For each session, one member agreed to gather information about the scientific historical context underpinning the story and share it with us in a casual talk of about 45 minutes in length. During the talk, there was ample time for discussion. During the second hour, another member (selected in advance) facilitated the group in an in-depth literary and thematic discussion, often there were specific questions sent out in advance via email. In between the parts, we made time for the usual snacks and chatting.
This format worked very well and helped us get a lot more out of this collection than if we had just read the entire book as a whole and gathered to discuss it for one two-hour session. We were all genuinely fascinated with the science history behind each story, even if it was tangential to the actual theme or purpose of the story. The person doing the talk enjoyed the independent research that went into it and the chance to share that information with the rest of the group. Although we were all very well educated people, most of information we learned in these casual talks was fresh and new. When it came time to discuss each story as a literary work, we had no problem maintaining a lively discussion on a single story for 45 minutes.
If your book group has time to give this format a chance, you might find that it significantly enhances your enjoyment for this particular collection of stories.