Sunday, February 16, 2014

Book Review: State of Wonder

I believe I own Ann Patchett's Bel Canto and attempted to start it at one point. Perhaps that is why I kind of dragged my heels in starting this book club selection for February. But, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, State of Wonder, so much so that I shared bits of it with my boys and with my husband (a sure sign of an enthralling read).

Dr. Marina Singh works for a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota. When her co-worker winds up dead in the Amazon after being sent there to locate the jungle laboratory of Dr. Annick Swensen (supposedly hard at work developing a drug which will enable women to bear children well into later life), Dr. Singh is asked to go down to find the rouge doctor and glean a more satisfying explanation for the death of her co-worker. The difficulty of finding Dr. Swensen is compounded by Marina's memories of a tragic past. The antimalarial drug is messing with her mind, the great Dr. is avoiding interference, and the Lakisha tribe is demonstrating a rare ability to bear young well into their seventies. Add in the mix a young boy almost killed by a lengthy, threatening anaconda, a neighboring tribe of cannibals, repeated requests for Dr. Singh to perform surgeries she feels unprepared for, and a secretive relationship with her boss and you have a story full of adventure and suspense.

I thought the book was very good. The writing flowed from page to page carrying the reader deeper and deeper into the jungle and into the tense story line. With intriguing characters and an enticing plot, this book will make you stay up well into the night attempting to get to the answers and discover how Dr. Singh will resolve the many conflicts in her situation.

I will offer one criticism: There is an adulterous sex scene at the end of the book that I just couldn't buy into. It wasn't just the adulterous aspect of it. It simply didn't seem realistic, given the man's utter devotion to his supportive wife. I felt myself thinking, "Oh, really, author? Did you have to go there, just to bring some gratuitous sex into the story?" Plus, I was left with an unconfirmed suspicion that the woman ended up pregnant (since the story line clearly stated that women who chewed on the bark of the native trees felt all cravings for the bark go away upon the moment of conception. Yet, nothing was said to indicate that the story line headed off in that direction).

I think there are a lot of different opinions about this book. Given the mixed reviews the book received on Amazon, I will be interested to see what my fellow book club members thought of the book. Regardless, I believe I should attempt Bel Canto again, for good measure.

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