Patchett has a way of blindsiding you with plot twists and moral dilemmas that leave you confused, off balance, maybe even a little pissed off. You’re left wondering – would that character really do that? In her situation, what would you do?
Some background: I became a medical librarian as a second career, and an unexpected pleasure has been working with medical students, nursing students, and residents just getting started in their careers.
About half of the medical students I meet are women. Back in the day, a couple of my female college friends became physicians, but they were the exception rather than the rule, and I don’t think most of us had the level of confidence I see in young women today.
I love seeing the amazing energy and commitment of today’s students, yet I know every day they are under an incredible amount of stress. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.
It’s about a young obstetrics resident, Marina, who makes a terrible mistake that causes her to abandon medicine. The book picks up years later, when she travels alone into the Amazon jungle to investigate the death of her lab partner and fulfill a mission for the pharmaceutical company she works for.
Her mistake continues to cast a shadow over her life.
The other reason I was drawn to this book is, quite simply, I love everything Ann Patchett writes. I’ve been a fan ever since Bel Canto.
It was the featured title a few years back in an annual event here, “If All of Rochester Read the Same Book.” Ann visited Rochester for three days and gave readings and talks at local schools and in the community.
When State of Wonder was published, she returned to Rochester and I attended one of her readings. The scene she read featured a terrifying encounter with an anaconda. You could have heard a pin drop.
Ann talked about a trip she took to the Amazon and how she got the idea for the scene, and the book. Turns out she had her own encounter with an anaconda, and she shared a few choice details about that with us. Such as the fact that the serpent smell was so strong, she had to throw away the clothes she’d been wearing. Every last stitch.
Ann Patchett said she didn’t like the Amazon. It was creepy and she wasn’t going back any time soon.
Which gives you some idea of what Marina is faced with in State of Wonder. Marina is a strong woman (though she doesn’t know it). In a sense, the great mistake of her youth follows her into the jungle and this time she can’t avoid dealing with it.
The neat thing about this book is, you can travel to the Amazon jungle without taking any of the risks, just by slipping inside Marina’s skin.
It’s one hell of a trip.
I’m going to start (re)reading State of Wonder this weekend. Won’t you join me? Please take a couple of weeks to get started and we’ll meet back here the second half of April to talk.