Book: State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Published: 2011 (HarperCollins)
I officially love Ann Patchett.
I started a crush on her when she came to speak at the college I used to work at (oh my God, you guys, that was the November of Junot Diaz and the April of Ian McEwan and Jeffrey Eugenides too – I don’t know if there will ever be such a blow-our-wad lineup like that again). She talked about writing in her head as she married ketchup bottles during her waitressing job, and she talked about reading at libraries and auctioning off parts in another novel of hers to break writer’s block and how her neighbors won that and how she felt embarrassed at how they became breakout characters, and she talked about opening a bookstore, and she read from State of Wonder and goddamned if I wasn’t too cheap to buy it and get her to autograph it (she autographed the first page of a short story I had just started instead) then.
But I finally found State of Wonder at the bookstore (as if that’s hard, but second-handers are a little more unevenly stocked) and got it and read it and I love its twining of character and plot, art and Amazon toughness.
It’s about a lady who goes to the Amazon to track down a doctor who’s working on a vaccine for fertility. The first dude who tracks down the doctor actually does find her, but he gets killed (…OR DOES HE?) before he can get her to come back to civilization.
So this other lady from the same pharmaceutical company goes, and oh, y’all, she goes in all squishy and uncertain and she comes out with the dude they thought was dead and a thick, complicated layer of understanding from the jungle doctor lady, and if anybody tells you lit fic is boring and doesn’t have anything, like, happening, you have my full permission to swat them over the head with this book (use a paperback).
There’s a young couple hired to keep people away from the jungle doctor through sheer force of their charisma, which they’re good at only it’s wearing on them; and a twelve-year-old deaf boy stolen who’s way more loyal to the tribe who stole him than the one who wants him back; and the jungle doctor herself, a mix of stubbornness and passion that she somehow whittles to cool determination even in the 10000% humidity of the Amazon while still being, you know, human.
I love it, and I’m going to put it on my bookshelf, but not before I clip my Patchett autograph to the front cover.