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State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
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State of Wonder

by Ann Patchett

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,4792611,526 (3.91)3 / 352
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English (257)  Dutch (2)  All languages (259)
Showing 1-5 of 257 (next | show all)
I had never read anything by Ann Patchett prior to this, but Heart of Darkness is one of my favorite books, so a contemporary, female-based version of it sounded intriguing. Now that I've finished it, I'm not quite sure what to make of the book as a whole: while it contains vivid depictions of the Amazon rainforest in all its lush creepiness and some provocative explorations of medical ethics, the plot meanders quite a bit and verges on the unbelievable. Characters drop in and out without much development (the research team at the jungle lab site, for instance), and the main character's constant "Should I stay or should I go" dilemma regarding her sojourn in the wilderness becomes tiresome. Also, I felt like the hallucinogenic blue mushrooms were the equivalent of Chekhov's gun on the table: if you're going to place a gun on the table in the first act, then someone needs to shoot it in the third act. With so many tantalizing descriptions of the mushrooms and their psychoactive effects, I kept waiting for Marina to taste one for herself, but it never happens. Many other exciting things do happen (an impromptu cesarean section, a struggle with a giant anaconda, a last-minute encounter with a cannibalistic tribe), but the plot too often wanders up one of those elusive river tributaries that Marina constantly fears getting lost on. For instance, why are the Bovenders initially introduced as possibly sinister hippies guarding the Kurtz-like Dr. Swenson, only to be revealed as harmless Aussie travelers doing an easy job in between surfing sessions? What is the true nature of the relationship between Marina and her lover/boss, Mr. Fox? Is the secret tryst between Marina and the rescued Anders necessary, or is it just thrown in as a token for readers wanting a wistfully romantic ending? In short, State of Wonder is an elegant mess, a novel that probably should've been either 100 pages longer or 100 pages shorter to more successfully address its themes. I would read another of Patchett's books, however, because there is a thrilling weirdness here trying to claw its way through the overgrowth of cliche. ( )
  coltonium | Sep 15, 2014 |
I can't exactly pinpoint why this falls flat for me, but it does. On the surface, it's an adequately engaging story with a decent plot twist towards the end. It explores some interesting, worthwhile topics - overcoming personal demons, the evils of for-profit drug development, scientific research ethics, respect for cultural differences, etc. - but the analysis never seems deep enough. Everything seems surface-y to me and perhaps Lifetime movie-ish. Additionally, I really wanted to know the main character, but she always seemed just outside my grasp, if that makes any sense. That being said, many love this book, so maybe it's just me. ( )
  DorsVenabili | Aug 29, 2014 |
I had recently read the Magician's Assistant, which was nominated for the Women's Prize in 1998, then I saw that this book was also nominated in 2012, and I was eager to pick it up. After being so certain I would enjoy what I had, it was somewhat disappointing to realize that by the end I was just as unsure of the book as I would have been if I had never read the author or if someone had told me the plot and then said, "But really, you'll like it."

The writing is very good and kept me interested, and the human relationships are deeply examined and explored, as was the case in the Magician's Assistant. Those two aspects of the book were what had me reading to the end, not the actual story itself, which I felt was out of my reach somehow. If it were actually possible to see the beauty of writing hanging in front of you, but just out of reach, the way people tie treats to strings and hang them in front of animals to make them move, that would be how I would describe the feeling I got from this book. ( )
  mirrani | Aug 10, 2014 |
this book could have been really great, but it ended up being disappointing in many small ways. I read "Truth and Beauty" a couple years ago and really didn't like it, so perhaps I should stop trying to read Ann Patchett. I liked "Bel Canto" when I read that in high school though. ( )
  abbeyhar | Jul 23, 2014 |
this book could have been really great, but it ended up being disappointing in many small ways. I read "Truth and Beauty" a couple years ago and really didn't like it, so perhaps I should stop trying to read Ann Patchett. I liked "Bel Canto" when I read that in high school though. ( )
  abbeyhar | Jul 23, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 257 (next | show all)
In her latest novel, Ann Patchett, author of the beloved Bel Canto, takes her readers down the Amazon and deep into the rain forest in a book that is part adventure story, part morality tale...This book may be on a lot of book club lists already — but with good reason...
added by Jcambridge | editNPR, Lynn Neary (Jan 1, 2012)
 
State of Wonder is heavy with literary parallels (to Henry James, to Greek myth), but in this respect the strongest links are to Heart of Darkness, a novel that Patchett substantially rewrites, with Conrad's male text repopulated with female characters (Swenson is this book's Kurtz). It lacks the developed emotional core of Patchett's earlier books, but it is her most mature work to date, a novel that tries to be more alive to the nerve ends of philosophical life than to the simpler machinery of character motivation.
 
“State of Wonder” is an engaging, consummately told tale. Patchett’s deadpan narrative style showcases a dry humor that enables her to wed, with fine effect, the world of “Avatar” or the “Odyssey” with that of corporate board meetings, R&D reports and peer review...

“State of Wonder” is an immensely touching novel, although as with much of Patchett’s work, its emotional impact is somewhat muted by her indefatigable niceness.
 
Nail-biting action scenes include a young boy’s near-mortal crushing by a 15-foot anaconda, whose head Marina lops off with a machete; they’re balanced by contemplative moments that give this gripping novel spiritual and metaphysical depth, right down to the final startling plot twist.
added by Shortride | editKirkus Reviews (Feb 1, 2011)
 

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ann Patchettprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Daddio, Jennifer AnnDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Duval, NateCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ferguson, ArchieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my friend Jo VanDevender
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The news of Anders' Eckman's death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope.
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Book description
Years ago, Marina Singh traded the hard decisions and intensity of medical practice for the quieter world of research at a pharmaceutical company, a choice that has haunted her life. Enveloping herself in safety, limiting emotional risk, she shares a quiet intimacy with her widowed older boss. Mr. Fox, and a warm friendship with her colleague Anders Eckman. But Marina's security is shaken when she learns that Anders, sent to the Amazon to check on a field team, is dead - and Mr. Fox wants her to go into the jungle to discover what happened. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the unknown, down into the Amazonian delta, deep into the dense, insect-infested jungle, to find answers from the company's research team. Led by the formidable Dr. Annick Swenson, the scientists are looking into the development of a new drug that could have a profound impact on Western society. But the team has been silent for two years, and Dr. Swenson does not like interlopers inserting themselves into her work, as Marina well knows. The eminent and fiercely uncompromising doctor was once her mentor, the woman she admired, emulated, and feared. To fulfill her mission, Marina must confront the ghosts of her past, as well as unfulfilled dreams and ecxpectations-on a journey that will force her to make painful moral choices and take her to the depths of her own heart of darkness. (ARC)
Haiku summary
endless river
love lost
love found

(Sogamonk)
Everything's easy
after killing
anaconda

(ReneeGKC)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0062049801, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2011: In State of Wonder, pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. But first she must locate Dr. Anneck Swenson, a renowned gynecologist who has spent years looking at the reproductive habits of a local tribe where women can conceive well into their middle ages and beyond. Eccentric and notoriously tough, Swenson is paid to find the key to this longstanding childbearing ability by the same company for which Dr. Singh works. Yet that isn’t their only connection: both have an overlapping professional past that Dr. Singh has long tried to forget. In finding her former mentor, Dr. Singh must face her own disappointments and regrets, along with the jungle’s unforgiving humidity and insects, making State of Wonder a multi-layered atmospheric novel that is hard to put down. Indeed, Patchett solidifies her well-deserved place as one of today’s master storytellers. Emotional, vivid, and a work of literature that will surely resonate with readers in the weeks and months to come, State of Wonder truly is a thing of beauty and mystery, much like the Amazon jungle itself. --Jessica Schein


Amazon Exclusive: Elizabeth Gilbert Interviews Ann Patchett

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love, as well as the short story collection Pilgrims—a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and winner of the 1999 John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares. A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award-nominated journalist, she works as writer-at-large for GQ.

Elizabeth Gilbert: As your close personal friend, I happen to know that you traveled to the Amazon to conduct research for this novel, and that you sort of hated the Amazon--can you share a little about that?

Ann Patchett: I absolutely loved the Amazon for four days. It was gorgeous and unfamiliar and deeply fascinating. Unfortunately, I stayed there for ten days. There are a lot of insects in the Amazon, a lot of mud, surprisingly few vegetables, too many snakes. You can’t go anywhere by yourself, which makes sense if you don’t know the terrain, but I enjoy going places by myself. I can see how great it would be for a very short visit, and how great it would be if you lived there and had figured out what was and wasn’t going to kill you, but the interim length of time isn’t great.

EG: Didn't I hear that you have a sort of magical story about a friend who is also a writer, who was also once going to write a book about the Amazon? Can you share this miraculous tale? Also, is your writer friend pretty?

AP: This friend of mine, who happens to be you, is gorgeous, and much taller in real life. Yes, you were writing a novel about the Amazon, and then you decided not to write a novel about the Amazon, and then I started writing a novel about the Amazon, and later when we compared notes (your book dismissed, mine halfway finished) they had remarkably similar story lines, to the point of being eerie. I thought this must be because it was an incredibly banal idea and we had both come up with a generic Amazon novel, but then you told me that ideas fly around looking for homes, and when the idea hadn’t worked out with you it came to me. If this is true I think your name should be on the cover. It would increase sales significantly.

EG: Readers of your prior work--particularly the luminous Bel Canto--will be delighted to see that opera makes an appearance in this novel, as well. In fact, one of the most dramatic scenes in the book takes place at the opera. Is that a wink and a nod to loyal readers, or just an expression of your own deep and abiding musical passions?

AP: It’s a wink and a nod to Werner Herzog and his brilliant Amazon film “Fitzcarraldo” which opens at the opera house in Manaus where the aforementioned scene takes place. I had very little experience with opera when I wrote Bel Canto, and since then it’s become a huge part of my life. It was fun to write a scene set at the opera now that I know what I’m talking about.

EG: State of Wonder a rollicking adventure story, full of peril and bravery and death-defying action. I personally know you to be a homebody who likes to bake muffins for neighbors. How the heck did you pull off this wildness so convincingly? Was it as invigorating to write as it is to read?

AP: Ah, the life of the mind. All the adventure I need I can dream up in my kitchen. I love writing outside of my own experience, making imaginary worlds. If I wrote novels based on my own life I would not be making a living at this. I also love to write a strong plot. I want things to happen in my books, I want to be thrilled. I always think about Raymond Chandler. I’m sure I’m getting the phrasing wrong but the general idea is that when things get slow, bring in a man with a gun. If you can’t find a gun, a poison arrow works just as well.

EG: The cover is a work of beauty. Authors are not always so lucky. Tell us how you managed such a miracle?

AP: When I first started writing this book, I came downstairs one night and found my husband listening to “Horowitz at Carnegie Hall”. The album cover has a very lush filigreed border. I had two thoughts: first, I have an amazing husband who thankfully held onto his Horowitz LPs; second, that the album cover had the exact the feeling I wanted for my book--half jungle, half Baroque period. When I was finished writing the novel I sent the album to my editor, who sent it to the art department. They understood exactly what I was talking about.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:03 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

A researcher at a pharmaceutical company, Marina Singh journeys into the heart of the Amazonian delta to check on a field team that has been silent for two years--a dangerous assignment that forces Marina to confront the ghosts of her past.

» see all 5 descriptions

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