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Fever: A Novel by Mary B Keane

Fever: A Novel (original 2013; edition 2013)

by Mary B Keane

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Title:Fever: A Novel
Authors:Mary B Keane
Info:Scribner (2013), Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
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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Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
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 |
Historical fiction, without a doubt, can bring history to life, erases the dull facts and fleshes out a story in a way that makes you keep reading, and when you finish that book, seek out more information. Fever by Mary Beth Keane tells the story of "Typhoid Mary" Mary Mallon in a way that the reader is enthralled with the tale of this poor woman. It is sympathetic and sensitive, and you will never think about Typhoid Mary the same way again.

Before reading this book, I was not familiar with the facts of Mary Mallon's life. I knew only of her notoriety as a pariah, and have even described myself as "Typhoid Mary" when I had the flu last winter. I wasn't sure what that meant, only that this woman was accused of killing people with her cooking, spreading her typhoid about recklessly.

Mary Mallon immigrated to the United States from Ireland as a young girl. Always talented in the kitchen, she soon moved up from laundress to cook. And unknowingly, left in her wake sickness, disease, and death. Mary was a proud woman, keeping her appearance neat and clean, confident of her abilities, sure of her talents. She was healthy and strong, slim and attractive. Then one day her turned upside down. Dragged from her world, literally. Taken by force by doctors who said her crime was spreading fever from her kitchens. How could it be her? She was healthy, never sick, could run up and down stairs and lift heavy pots from the stove without a problem, so how could she be causing illness? The doctors explained about germs, but this all seemed like magic to Mary.

They took her away, held her in isolation against her will, without even a trial or a lawyer.Without Mary being able to tell her friends and loved ones where she was going. She was just gone. They said they couldn't let her go, that she was a menace to the health and well being of society as a healthy carrier of typhoid. It was barbaric and an abuse of power. She was the first healthy carrier found, but she wasn't the last or the only one. But only Mary was not able to be free. Could it have been that she was a woman, Irish, a member of domestic service, and living with a man without the benefits of marriage that she was the only one to suffer this way? I think so. They built her a little cottage on North Brother Island, with a cot and an area to make tea, but she was not allowed to cook for herself or for others, especially for others. She had to provide stool and urine samples weekly. She was not allowed to contact anyone.

Keane's portrayal of Mary's suffering dignity, loneliness, humiliation, and confusion at what was happening was heartbreaking and dramatic. I could easily imagine what it would have been like in Mary's shoes. How scary it would have been. Yet she also describes Mary as intelligent, strong willed and determined to get off that island, taking matters into her own hands. She found a lawyer, paid for her own testing. Eventually she was allowed to leave the island, but on the condition that she never cooked again. You can imagine though, how at that time, being unable to use your most profitable skill would be frustrating. After working as a laundress, Mary found work as a cook again. This time at a hospital. And wouldn't you know it, a few weeks after she began, people started getting sick.

I couldn't put this book down. I was drawn into the story very easily, from the very first page. Keane's depiction of Mary Mallon made we want to read this book, and want to read more about her, the infamous Typhoid Mary. You will never think about her the same way again, after reading this book. ( )
  cinnamonowl | Sep 11, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Keane's research for this novel was not only impressive, she also demonstrated the ability to translate those details into a very readable and enjoyable work.

The legend of "Typhoid Mary" was about the extent of my knowledge on the Typhoid epidemics from the early 20th century. This work, although a fictionalized version, did a great job of exploring the bigger picture of what was happening during this time and more specifically addressing what made her so interesting to both the public and researchers.

While I enjoyed the book overall, through the first half of it, I found myself wishing the author would have started a little earlier in the narrative. As the book begins, Mary has already been identified as an asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid, and the first half deals primarily with her arrest and immediate aftermath. Eventually Keane does start filling in the back story, albeit in a slightly awkward manner, so the full history is eventually unveiled. Unfortunately, a portion of this history includes Typhoid Mary's boyfriend - a story line which seemed superfluous at best. Admittedly, without this addition, the result would have been significantly shorter. But I am a strong believer in quality over quantity, and a shorter/tighter story would have made for a stronger work.

Overall, however, Keane has an excellent writing style and the sheer readability of her text kept me going. ( )
1 vote pbadeer | Aug 1, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (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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Important events
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Awards and honors
"Jesus Mercy"
--Mary Mallon's headstone
St. Raymond's Cemetery
Bronx, New York
First words
The day began with sour milk and got worse. (Prologue)
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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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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