The “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

stateofwonderTitle: State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Genre: Contemporary fiction, literary fiction
Publisher: Harper
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the public library
Number of pages: 353
First line: 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.

Goodreads blurb: As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness.

Books like State of Wonder are the reason I decided to continue this challenge in 2014. Because although I didn’t love every challenge read-along in 2013, there were a few that were breath-takingly good. And State of Wonder absolutely took my breath away.

Confession: I usually avoid books that are billed as “literary fiction.” Whenever I see that term, what I hear in my head is “a book more obsessed with pretty writing than with any plot development or movement.” I know that is not always the case, but it has been for many books that I’ve read in that genre, and so I developed a bad attitude. Well, this book slapped me right upside my bad attitude and proved to me that a book that is considered “literary fiction” can be beautifully written, and still be character-driven and have a page-turning plot.

There is so much to this book that I’m at a bit of a loss as to where to start. I think I’ll throw out some questions and hope that we get some good discussion started in the comments. Spoilers will be involved.

~ What did you think of Marina’s relationship with Mr. Fox?

I could NOT understand this aspect of Marina’s character. I almost wonder if it was a case of a person being at work so much that their only dating pool is coworkers and so they ended up together. I didn’t feel like he really loved her at all, especially with the way he treated her over sending her to Brazil and then demanding she stay. I guess an argument for love could be made because he came to Brazil after he stopped hearing from her, but I think he was more concerned with the work that Dr. Swenson was doing than he was with Marina’s well-being.

~ What did you think of Dr. Swenson?

I always end up wondering if people who are that brilliant, and that work-focused to the detriment of their relationships with others, are a little bit Asperger’s. And maybe that’s why they are so brilliant and so able to accomplish such great things. I found myself really disliking her as a person, but then thinking that I’m glad there are people like that in the world, because that’s who will eventually cure diseases. And, of course, we saw a bit of her softer side show up at the end, when Easter is gone….but then she recovers so quickly, simply assuming that he will find a way to come back to her. Did you notice that Marina didn’t even say goodbye to her?

~ Did you ever wonder if Marina would end up staying in the jungle?

I did. For a while, before Mr. Fox showed up, I was convinced she would probably end up staying. Yet it seemed that once she had gotten what she needed – and I mean the healing from the trauma in her past, not the info about the drug – she was ready to move on.

~ Were you as heart-broken over Easter as I was?

That scene completely gutted me. To know that he was feeling completely betrayed and confused, and that there was no way to explain to him what was going on….I start crying again just thinking about it. I truly hope that Dr. Swenson was right, and that he’ll find his way back to her and the other scientists. (See how much this book made me think of the characters are real people?)

~ The ending leaves things a bit up in the air. Any theories as to what happened to Marina?

Did you catch the part at the end where it said she had no craving to eat the bark anymore? She had been told by the other scientists that as soon as a woman became pregnant, she lost her craving for it, so I’m assuming that means she is now pregnant by Anders. Obviously, he is not going to leave Karen and his boys, so I think she’ll be raising the baby on her own. I also think she’ll leave pharmacology and go back to obstetrics. But that’s just my “I love a happy ending” opinion.

If you read State of Wonder this month, or at any time in the past, please leave your answers or other comments below. Or, if you choose to write your own review or post, leave the link below.

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8 Responses to The “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

  1. irene says:

    I’ve not read this one, but wish I had. Maybe next time.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Irene – it’s worth adding to the to-read list, that’s for sure. 🙂

  2. Trisha
    Twitter: Trish422

    I’m a big admirer of literary fiction in part because I do love a well turned phrase; but I often shy away from the genre when I’m more interested in being entertained. As you say, there are many pieces of literary fiction that are so concerned with language they forget about the rest. I haven’t read this one, so I don’t have anything to add to your discussion there.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Trisha – we should start a list – “Literary fiction that isn’t boring!”

  3. This book snuck up on me. I hoped to like it, but I began to have doubts as I began reading . . . Then the next thing I knew, I was invested and really enjoying it.

    1) Marina’s relationship with Mr. Fox was . . . a mixed bag, I think. One minute I would think she loved him and the next I thought their relationship was more a comfortable habit they’d settled into. I could never quite put my finger on it. I agree with you. I don’t think his feelings were as strong for her as she wanted to believe. Work was definitely his priority. Marina deserves more.

    2) I never did care for Annick Swenson. I admired her dedication and her intelligence. In the end, I felt sad for her mostly. As much as she claimed to like to work alone, her bond with Easter, suggested otherwise. When he was gone, we got a real glimpse of her despair. Then her defenses went up again and she was back to being old self.

    3) I did! I wondered if Marina might stay in the jungle. I find myself wondering now if she will go back. I don’t think so though. Like you said, Carrie, she seemed to find what it was she needed out there, in the rain forest, and I think she is ready to move on.

    4) I was devastated by what happened to Easter! I cried too. It was horrible. After reading what Dr. Swenson had done, how she came to have Easter with her, I was even more heartbroken. Here was a family who had had their son taken from them, thinking he was dead; a boy who probably thought he was abandoned and who grew up in one culture and suddenly being forced into a new one, with complete strangers–and they weren’t. They were his family who were thrilled to have him back–to see him alive. I don’t know. There was a kind of justice in that, however heart wrenching it was. I can’t stop thinking of how awful it must be for Easter, especially given his not being able to hear. He must be so confused.

    I don’t know if I want him to find his way back to Dr. Swenson. A part of me does. A part of me wants him to return to the life he thrived in and was comfortable in. The other part hopes he can find happiness with his birth family. My thoughts on this would be different had he actually been abandoned, but given he wasn’t–that Annick Swenson had lied about his death even if her reasons were to save him–I waver.

    5) I am right there with you. I think she’s pregnant with Anders child. And just like you said, I think she’ll end up raising the child on her own. I also see her leaving Mr. Fox and her job, maybe going back into obstetrics like you said, but definitely moving on with her life.

    On the topic of reading literary fiction, I do enjoy it from time to time. I think the best literary fiction books are the ones in which the writing, the characters, and the story make me swoon. Beautiful writing alone isn’t enough to hold a book together, I don’t think.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Wendy – I agree – it takes more than beautiful writing! And I go back and forth about Easter, too – what a horrible, horrible situation. And the fact that no one can explain to him what was going on. That would be so scary, as a child.

  4. Melissa
    Twitter: avidreader12

    I think she was pregnant too and that she’ll raise the baby herself. Easter’s fate broke my heart. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this one, but it was so good. I got so sucked in. The pace was completely unique and I couldn’t put it down.