Saturday, September 24, 2011

State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (2011)
Deep in the Amazon a well-respected scientist is researching a tribe of people in which the women are able to continue having babies their whole lives. But Dr. Swenson has stopped communicating with the company funding her research, so they decide to send someone down to check on her. When he is reported dead, they send another scientist, Marina Singh, to find out what happened to him and collect his things, as well as check on Dr. Swenson and her research.

But Annika Swenson's location is a heavily-guarded secret, and Marina must first get past the Bovenders, a young bohemian couple staying in Swenson's apartment and being paid to keep people away from her. Finally she locates Dr. Swenson deep in the jungle, but her discoveries about the research, her lost colleague, and herself are only beginning.

In one passage Marina describes Annika Swenson by saying she "was either standing right in front of you or she could not be located." Dr. Swenson was almost mythical, and in the hands of another writer could have easily felt fake. Her keen intelligence and drive coupled with harsh and unsentimental ways bordered on stereotype. But here she was brilliantly rendered, along with the colorful and unreliable Bovenders and the charming Easter, a young deaf boy in Dr. Swenson's charge.

I always forget what an amazing author Ann Patchett is. Her writing is just so perfect: lush descriptions, intriguing characters, clever dialogue. This novel was atmospheric and heart-wrenching; there was one passage near the end during which I actually gasped. The plot was well-crafted and her descriptions of the settings added richness and texture - in one memorable scene Marina attends an opera, the opulent venue in startling juxtaposition with the dingy surroundings.

It's hard to articulate why I loved this book so much. I savored every part of it and wanted to save quotes from practically every page. Just take my word for it: it's an adventure during which you will see strange and wonderful things, meet extraordinary people, and be surprised over and over again.

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