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Fever by Mary B Keane

Fever (original 2013; edition 2013)

by Mary B Keane

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3514231,129 (3.87)30
Authors:Mary B Keane
Info:Scribner (2013), Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Collections:NetGalley, Your library
Tags:Historical Novel, Typhoid Mary

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Fever by Mary B Keane (2013)



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FEVER by Mary Beth Keane breathes life into the too-often caricatured personality of Mary Mallon, better known (unfortunately) as Typhoid Mary. In fleshing out Mary Mallon’s harsh youth in Ireland, tenacious present in New York City and isolated future on North Brother Island in the East River, Keane replaces the “germ woman” of cartoons with a finely drawn, astonishingly healthy female cook whose talents in the kitchen netted her employment with such upper-crust families as the Fricks. Mary’s reluctance to cooperate with sanitary engineer Dr. Soper’s demands for isolation and testing makes perfect sense. She’s cooked for many people who did not become ill.

Keane raises concerns with the Department of Health’s coercive handling of Mary Mallon. There were other asymptomatic carriers (who had also caused deaths from typhoid) known to the department who were allowed to remain in the community.

Mary Beth Keane makes a daring choice to write the story such a well-known historical figure . We all know how it’s going to end; why bother reading? Because you will get to know Mary Mallon as a real human being, full of contradictions and hopes and disappointments; a person easily dismissed because of her gender, race and class.

The author seems very much at home in early 20th century New York City, somehow giving it a contemporary feel while grounded firmly in the details of the past. Keane’s lyric style finesses every scene and shows to great advantage in Mary Mallon’s self talk. You can almost hear the Irish accent coming off the page.

7.5 out of 10 Highly recommended to all ( )
  julie10reads | Jul 25, 2015 |
As novels go, this one is very easy to read - the narrative voice is clear and we follow 'Typhoid Mary's misadventure in what is her (fictitious) life before, during and after her trial. The characterisation is very good and we can follow her train of thoughts leading to her decisions - whether or not this was her true thoughts, I couldn't say, this is fiction after all. However, I find that there is a discrepancy between Mary's Irish upbringing, her day to day life with a good for nothing partner in a poor neighbourhood, and her 'educated', middle class internal monologues - her inner voice does not express itself save through the reader's interpretation; her actions are pretty much in opposition to her thoughts: we, as readers, forget that she is acting stupid for the whole novel because of this inner voice. This interference is most unnerving, because I suspect this inner voice is the author's, and she didn't put herself at the level of her character. The book did not convince me as such, this is why I rate it so. ( )
  soniaandree | Jun 24, 2015 |
A few years ago, I read Anthony Bourdain's biography of "Typhoid Mary," an Irish immigrant cook who unknowingly started an epidemic in early twentieth-century New York. Fever also focuses on Mary Mallon, but, being fiction, it gives her character more depth and creates empathy for the way she was hounded, isolated,villainized, and humiliated. Kean's story's antagonist is a Dr. Soper, the researcher who tracked down Mary as a healthy typhoid carrier and determined that the bacilli were passed on through her cooking. Never having been ill herself, Mary finds it hard to believe that she could be the source of the disease that had killed two of her employers' children and several others and had sickened a number of her coworkers. But in quieter moments, she ponders all the deaths she had attended in Ireland and on the ship crossing the Atlantic, and the death of an employer's toddler whom she had grown to love.

Kean covers Mary's forcible arrest and hospitalization, her exile to an island hospital for consumptives, her suit to be allowed to return to a relatively normal life--as long as she promises never again to work as a cook. She also provides a colorful yet sympathetic portrait of life for the working class in New York, ca. 1900-25. And then there is Mary's complicated relationship with Alfred, her German lover, with whom she has lived since the age of seventeen. I found this novel well written and engaging and recommend it to those interested in historical fiction of this period. ( )
1 vote Cariola | Apr 14, 2015 |
Mary Mallon, Typhoid Mary of history books, came alive in this novel - I have no idea of which parts of the book were true, but this woman's life was at times interesting, sad, painful and thought provoking. To be shunned and kept from the passions of her life because she was a carrier of typhoid at a time when science was just beginning to understand that one could be healthy and still infect others must have been a nightmare - for a brief time we live that nightmare with her and can almost understand why she continued to put others in danger -

I didn't love this book, but did feel a connection with Mary and feel that the author created a credible character - how much her Mary was based on the life of the woman who experienced this remains a mystery. ( )
  njinthesun | Feb 1, 2015 |
I have heard a lot of promising thing about the book. Its about Typhoid Mary(!) and I always read articles about her and I enjoy dramatization of actual people related to medical science. But, I'm plain disappointed by this book. It was a romanticized life of Mary Mallon although a bit dull and dreary but the main focus of this book wasn't a good representative of her situation. In fact, the attempt to humanize Mary and demonized the doctors involved pretty much reduced the the narrative value of the story.

Compared to "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks", Rebecca Skloot had a better understanding as she is scientifically-educated and able to give a greater understanding of the complications revolving the HeLa controversies at it added layers of depth about the complexities of the issues in addition to that she was involved with the Lacks family and the book was realistic enough to be considered as non-fictional. She also explore the problem through several lenses and one of it, definitely not romanticizing the situation. But Keane only offer a plain fictionalization of the era, she skim about the significance of Mary among the scientific society because narratively the story only spin about what the character felt when she was being demonized by the public health society and she is but in turn the book play around the romanticized history around the character and the settings rather than going in depth about it.

Plus, she did cause these deaths by her ignorance and cause more deaths because she persist in her ignorance although she was informed first hand of her role as a Typhoid carrier. Rather than explore various characterization which stem from her nurtured way of thoughts and upbringing that perhaps it can give a sense of depthness to her as a realistic flawed human being. The book seem to be preoccupied in spending its time exploring the romantic elements of Mary Mallon.

Mary Mallon is a scientific enigma of her time and that was as interesting as the depth of her characterizations but I felt the book overplayed the emotional part of her character and it was extremely diverting. I also studied pastry and bakery for a year and from that experience, there was a lot of literary elements you could do to give more flair to Mary's characterization. There was no culinary passion in this Mary. The book skim on that integral part that made me understand why Mary still continue on with her food service. I don't feel it clicked to me that she only did all of it to be stubborn and opinionated because that was too one dimensional to describe this once living woman. The book didn't make me feel Mary was a good cook either. In fact, the book did poorly on her motives to continuously feed people. I don't think it was that simplistic need to feed people. She could have work as a grocery store if she was that altruistic. Cooking itself need some artistic skills and also require a scientific one too. You have to learn the right way to cook, the subjective taste and the talents in need. The book made Mary's cooking ability as dull like she's a food processor. Mary is a smart and independent woman and if she had the right education, she would be a marvelous woman of science herself or even a chemist because personally, food science is a legit science itself. If you know how to cook, you're scientifically talented as it is. How I know about this? My late grandmother is similar to her in some ways. She had struggled and life is bad and turbulent in Singapore at that time, she also make bad decisions with her love life and she's a good cook and gave birth to kids who end up being smart and also a scientists and great cook too. I know perfectly well how this situation could have been played in real life and I do sympathize with Mallon and wish things could play out different for her.

Mary Mallon was smarter than this book did on her. It tried to reason around her behaviours but always fall into being portrayed as "emotionally driven". I still don't feel the book was right about her motivation to continue to cook.

I get that this book employ literary methods from someone with mostly literary background and can be appreciated by those without scientific background surrounded with the Typhoid Mary issue. But Mary Mallon is a person of significance in science because of her existence that touched all expect of medical issues, epidemiology and human rights. Keane could have done the book better if she discuss this expect more with the world Mary lived in rather than the geographical era accuracy about the fashion, culture and era-specific attitudes. The book could have been better for me if it played about humanizing all the characters more rather than attempting to make Mary as a sympathetic character. I did note that the book didn't come with its own references so it does made it hard to know which part is real or not. In the end, its still a historical fiction that didn't make much an impact to me when it should.

And in the end, I didn't think the author even understand what a Salmonella really is. ( )
1 vote aoibhealfae | Jun 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
Keane evokes the atmosphere of the bustling and booming New York of the time to life as she details both Mary’s day-to-day life and the work of “sanitation engineer” Dr. George Soper, who uses basic detective work and the scientific method to trace the infections back to her. It’s this “one-two punch” the makes the novel so compelling.
added by KelMunger | editLit/Rant, Kel Munger (Jun 11, 2013)
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"Jesus Mercy"
--Mary Mallon's headstone
St. Raymond's Cemetery
Bronx, New York
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The day began with sour milk and got worse. (Prologue)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Mary Mallon was a brave, headstrong Irish immigrant woman who journeyed alone to America, fought hard to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic-service ladder, and discovered in herself an uncanny and coveted talent for cooking. Working in the kitchens of the upper class, she left a trail of disease in her wake, until one enterprising and ruthless "medical engineer" proposed the inconceivable notion of the "asymptomatic carrier". From then on, Mary Mallon was a hunted woman.

In order to keep New York's citizens safe from Mallon, the Department of Health sent her to North Brother Island, where she was kept in isolation from 1907 to 1910. She was released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary - spoiled by her former status and income and genuinely passionate about cooking - most domestic and factory jobs were abhorrent. She defied the edict.
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On the eve of the twentieth century, Mary Mallon emigrated from Ireland at age fifteen to make her way in New York City. Brave, headstrong, and dreaming of being a cook, she fought to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic-service ladder. Canny and enterprising, she worked her way to the kitchen, and discovered in herself the true talent of a chef. Sought after by New York aristocracy, and with an independence rare for a woman of the time, she seemed to have achieved the life she'd aimed for when she arrived in Castle Garden. Then one determined "medical engineer" noticed that she left a trail of disease wherever she cooked, and identified her as an "asymptomatic carrier" of Typhoid Fever. With this seemingly preposterous theory, he made Mallon a hunted woman.… (more)

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