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Customer Review

671 of 705 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Wondrous Enough, June 7, 2011
This review is from: State of Wonder (Hardcover)
When one leading publication says to "expect miracles", a book has a lot to live up to. And indeed, in many areas, State of Wonder does meet its hype. Its vivid sense of place, for example, is truly magnificent. One can almost feel hear the buzzing and ravenous mosquitoes, feel the oppressive heat, recoil from the floating snake heads, and feel the power of the storms.

But at the end of the day, I was torn between one crucial question: is a book that is realistic also authentic? How do the two concepts merge...and how do they differ?

Ann Patchett, in State of Wonder, revisits the contemporary adventure story genre, with a provocative tale of an emotionally crippled doctor - Marina Singh - who embarks on an odyssey to the Amazon after learning that her pharma colleague Anders died there. His wife doesn't believe it...and her boss and love interest, Mr. Fox, entreats her to go there to find out what is going on.

He is, after all, invested in the outcome of the research that is going on there. Dr. Annick Swenson - formidable and inscrutable - has been there for years, reportedly working on a new drug that will have a massive effect on female fertility, with the prospect of making his company very rich. Dr. Swenson was Marina's former mentor and her associations with her are fearsome. As a result, the journey to the heart of darkness for Marina is also a plunge into her own emotional terrors.

The exploration of these terrors - along with the world of the Amazon and the Lakisha tribe - are masterfully done. But for me, in the end, the characters became sacrificed to the plot, pacing, and setting.

I did not believe in the relationship between Marina and her widowed older boss, Mr. Fox; neither seemed capable of sustaining it. Nor was the relationship between Marina and her doomed colleague fully developed. There were a number of missteps. For example, Marina must take a drug called lariam - a malaria preventative that can have major emotional side effects. She chooses to dump the lariam in the trash, exposing herself to almost certain malaria. As someone who has traveled to the region, I know that doxcycline can be used (not quite as effectively) for those who cannot take lariam.

Dr. Swenson comes across as very one-dimensional - uncompromising and rigid. Yet (no spoilers), she eventually produces a part of the puzzle based on supposition - which does not fit her character and beliefs. There are many examples of ways in which the characters did not react in an authentic manner, but to enumerate all of them would create spoilers.

It is always a little disconcerting to me when I am at odds with a majority of reviewers whose opinions I respect. I DO recommend State of Wonder for those who love plot-driven adventure stories that are well-written and have a strong sense of place. But for those of us who err towards characters, I can recommend only with qualifications.
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Showing 1-10 of 64 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 7, 2011, 3:49:10 PM PDT
Jill--no waffling there--you were very clear on what did and didn't work for you. It did work for me, but not because of plot, either. The plot was pleasant, but it was the prose and sense of wonder and spiritual kinetics that drew me in. I do think that Dr. Swenson was meant to be an archetype. I thought Dr. Singh was very contoured.

I agree with you about the lariam aspect (although she did go back on the drug--it was an impulsive thing she did, like the phone, but not permanent)--esp that she could have, SHOULD have gone on Doxy, although then the audience wouldn't get the benefit of the s/e. LOL Well, that is a problem area, but not enough to knock off a star by itself for me. I connected so well with the rest of it that I gave it a pass. However, if the story had not worked for me, that would have bothered me significantly, if that makes any sense.


In reply to an earlier post on Jun 7, 2011, 6:12:00 PM PDT
Well, we all connect to different books. You're obviously not alone in loving it; I'm in the minority here. It wasn't a bad book, it just didn't speak to me.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 7, 2011, 6:33:58 PM PDT
You rebel, you! :-->>>

Posted on Jun 7, 2011, 9:31:28 PM PDT
I enjoyed your review. I'm tempted to read this one - but not just yet.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 8, 2011, 4:48:22 AM PDT
Thanks for the kind comment, J. Cameron-Smith.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 8, 2011, 6:48:18 PM PDT
Jill, It sounds like we share a lot of the same opinions about this book. Bonnie

Posted on Jul 27, 2011, 3:13:17 PM PDT
Santos says:
jill, i think you nailed it. like "bel canto," this book was all about a big plot in an imaginary world. the characters were thin, like actors reading parts. dr. swenson and her effect on people was truly unbelievable. this book also put me in mind of the adage, "tell a dream, lose a reader." it did have an amazing sense of place -- but in the end, it's people that make a novel for me.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 27, 2011, 6:35:40 PM PDT
Santos, so many readers I respect loved this book that at first I wondered, "What am I missing?" But thanks to others like you, I realized I wasn't alone. The characters truly WERE like actors reading parts, weren't they? Great analogy!

Posted on Jul 29, 2011, 3:35:12 PM PDT
Santos says:
jill, well i loved your list of top 12 books, so i went and ordered a few of them! i noticed you're a paul auster fan, so you have to read "timbuktu" if you haven't already! another wonderful book that few know about is "the moonflower vine." thanks for your great reviews. what a pleasure to read!

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 30, 2011, 6:32:03 AM PDT
Santos, I HAVE read Timbuktu -- a perfect book for me since I'm a Paul Auster fan AND a dog fan (I have two). I'll take a look at Moonflower Vine. I love "meeting' people with similar reading tastes!
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