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Fever: A Novel by Mary B Keane
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Fever: A Novel (original 2013; edition 2013)

by Mary B Keane

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3023937,080 (3.87)27
Member:GarySeverance
Title:Fever: A Novel
Authors:Mary B Keane
Info:Scribner (2013), Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:typhoid fever, New York, Irish immigrants, cooking, Department of Health, quarantine, epidemiology

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Fever by Mary B Keane (2013)

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» See also 27 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
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 |
She was an Irish immigrant at the turn of the century, leaving behind a certain future ( or lack therof) for an uncertain one filled with hopes and a dream or two. Her name was Mary Mallon and she was in her 20's. But history has given this woman another name, a rather derogatory name, for she is better known to us all as Typhoid Mary.

Not sure how readers can possibly say anything negative .... this isn't a bio after all, it's a novel. And through her words Keane has taken a character from the flat pages of historical ridicule to being a full-fledged, likable, intelligent , woman with an incredible culinary talent. She had a distinct personality and an independence that went against the strictures of the time.
But Mary was a healthy carrier of a killer disease. When eventually she attained the position of head cook in upper crust households, people were infected through her delectable dishes. Yes it took time to tie the deaths to her, and due to the fact that she herself was not ill, she fought the truth.
We meet George Soper who pushed to have her unfairly isolated for years on an island. We meet Alfred, her love, who does her wrong in a big way yet their connection remained.... We meet different characters and we imagine ourselves... what would WE have done... in her peculiar spot in life.
But most importantly i feel that this Keanes book makes a social statement on a few different levels. Times change, time marches forward, but some things remain the same.....
  linda.marsheells | May 8, 2014 |
Fever is a fictionalized account of the real-life "Typhoid Mary", who was the first known healthy human carrier of typhoid. She was a cook in New York City in the early 1900s and transmitted the disease through her cooking. Because she refused to stop cooking, she was held in quarantine for the majority of her adult life.

The novel is very well written and makes Mary feel human and real. In the book she is a sympathetic character who is treated harshly in part because of her class - the doctors make little effort to really help her understand the risk when she cooks, and instead lock her up. She of course rebels since she doesn't fully understand and is not willing to accept that she could make people sick. Keane conveys her confusion and reactions to the accusations that she is transmitting typhoid in a realistic and believable manner.

Additionally, Keane adds a love story element. She portrays a complex and troubled relationship between Mary and her long-time lover (but not husband). One that thing I really enjoy about Keane's writing is that all of her characters are complex and three-dimensional, with the result that they are sympathetic while also sometimes making poor choices.

In the end, though, I did not love Fever as much as I did Keane's first book, The Walking People. I never felt as wholly drawn into the world as I did with her first book. Additionally the storyline was more linear and simpler, and overall the book was a bit depressing. ( )
  sbsolter | Feb 6, 2014 |
This was a very good story in the sense that Mary was shown as a human being. She had gained notoriety for having been a carrier of Typhoid, and as a cook if people ate her food they sometimes died. The story is very heavy on her personal life as well as the personal life of the man she loved most her life.
Not everyone who ate her food died, she only had the live virus active in her body at random times. It could only pass thru uncooked food she touched or tasted with a spoon she didn't wash. Now a days we use gloves and don't 'double dip' when tasting food.
Although the story did mention the small amount of information about typhoid, even mentioning a man who delivered milk who infected hundreds of people, it was never brought to a conclusion.
The author mentions bleeding horses to make an injection against a disease (can't remember if it was typhoid or another) I would have liked to know how the disease itself had a life of it's own and in the end how did Dr's stop it? I dont mean a ton of medical mumbo jumbo, but something would have been nice.
Overall this is a pleasant story but not as in your face as the cover art makes it seem it is. ( )
  Strawberryga | Dec 28, 2013 |
This novel is based on the life of Mary Mallon, better known as "Typhoid Mary", presumed to have infected around 50 people, 3 of whom died, over the course of her career as a cook in the early 1900's.

Mary emigrated from Ireland at the age of 15, to New York City to live with a great aunt. She dreamed of being cooked, and she fought and climbed her way up from the lowest rung of the domestic service ladder. She eventually worked her way into the kitchen, and discovered she had a true talent as a chef. She felt she had achieved her dreams, until a medical investigator discovered she left a trail of disease wherever she cooked, and identified her as an asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid Fever, and Mary became a hunted woman.

The Department of Health sent her to North Brother Island, to be kept in isolation. After 3 years, she was released on the condition that she never work as a cook again. But Mary was proud of her former status, and passionate about cooking, and defied the edict.

This was a fascinating read, and the author did an excellent job of blending fact and fiction. Just keep in mind if you are reading it for a history lesson, it is a work of fiction; the author can only guess at Mary's motives for doing what she did. Mary is portrayed as sympathetic, but by not as a heroine. While reading this story, I could understand why Mary made the choices she did, without excusing her for them.

I think this would be a great book for a book club, there is a lot of material that would make for great discussions, especially Mary's civil rights vs. protecting the public from a contagious disease. ( )
  mom2acat | Nov 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (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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Epigraph
"Jesus Mercy"
--Mary Mallon's headstone
St. Raymond's Cemetery
Bronx, New York
Dedication
TO MARTY
First words
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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