Thursday, July 14, 2011
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett has written a thriller! This is a story of the search for a scientist, presumed dead, in a remote jungle outpost. Anders Eckman went to Brazil to make a status report on the development of an important drug and subsequently disappeared. He was followed by a colleague, Marina Singh, who sought to find him. Reading at times like a Michael Crichton science thriller, and at times like the marvelous story called The Ruins by Scott Smith, this novel by Ann Patchett captures the humid physicality, the danger, the sheer overwhelming depth of the Amazon.
It is, literally, thrilling to read of adventures one knows can’t be true but are piled on with such abandon and with such a story-telling ability, that one sighs happily as we suspend disbelief and sink ever deeper into our hammocks. If I hadn’t read David Grann’s memorable nonfiction, The Lost City of Z, I would not have believed even the descriptions of the jungle. Perhaps there is a team of dedicated researchers in the jungle even now, willfully disobedient to the pharmaceutical companies financing them. Certainly the deprivations (though actually only one hour from a reasonably-stocked town) can be imagined. But one must silence one’s scientific mind as the details of the research are explained. It is not hard, then, to remember that this is fiction, but it is involving enough for us to want to know what happens to all the characters we have met along the way.
One could argue that this is not such a departure for Ann Patchett. I here must admit that I have not read her breakout bestseller Bel Canto yet, but I have read Run, which has a dark and uneasy thread running through it as well. The characters in State of Wonder are all believable, and carefully drawn so that we end up caring even for the despotic head of research Dr. Swenson. This was definitely a success for Patchett, and we hope she enjoys the writing as much as we enjoy the reading. I listened to this on audio, which was very capably read by Hope Davis.
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