State of Wonder by Ann Patchett was released in 2011, and since then it has steadily gained in popularity. It’s one of those books you see on the Target book shelf, so you know it’s a popular read. =) In it, Patchett tells a story of white coat scientists who find themselves in the Amazon experiencing science in ways they never thought they would. The science part is that they are in pharmaceuticals, trying to develop a drug that will allow women of any age and stage of life to become fertile again. The bark that a certain tribe eats in the Amazon is the basis of the miracle drug. The company that the main character, Marina Singh, works for sends her colleague, Anders Eckman, to the site of the bark’s growth and tribal use to track down the elusive and brilliant Dr. Annika Swenson. They then receive a letter informing them that Anders has died. Marina is nominated to find out what really happened to Anders and also to find Dr. Swenson and nail down a release date for the drug she has been working on for years. Marina’s journey from the frozen tundra of Michigan to the Amazon takes Marina (and the readers) to a world that is totally new. At least it was for me, as I’ve never been to the Amazon.
The beginning of this book was a little slow, and didn’t really pick up until Marina leaves Michigan. Then, it kind of stalls in the city where she first starts her search for Dr. Swenson. But when she finally gets to the location of the research, it becomes fascinating. The tribal people and the land they live in is understandably scary and new to Marina, but also strangely inviting. She finds herself coming out of the straight laced researcher and into a more adventurous woman. And she sees first hand what the work she does in a lab can do for, or to, real people.
The book raises the interesting question of what society would be like if women could decide at what point in their lives they want to bear children. Would women wait until their careers are completely fulfilled? Until they find the perfect partner in parenting? Until they feel mature enough themselves to parent children? If there were no bounds to fertility, when would women choose to have children? What would life be like for children if the majority of, parents started parenting in say, their 50s?
Though Marina seemed a bit of a watery character, I liked her alright. Dr. Swenson, on the other hand, was very complex. She was cold and had a wry sense of humor (maybe kind of like Dr. House on the TV show? Or Doc Martin for you Brits?) She emotionally disconnected herself from the women she was doctoring in the Amazon, had doctored in the States, and could affect through her drug development. She doesn’t seem to care much about anything. But by the end we see that her not caring actually hides a person who may care a great deal, but only about herself. Is she a villain or not? That’s the question I was left with.
Some readers were miffed by the scientific inaccuracies in the book. I am not and have never been in the medical field, so maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me that a novel doesn’t read like Gray’s Anatomy. I wasn’t reading it to learn how to properly perform a C-section, or to make sure of how long an Ob-gyn residency is. If I were reading a book that was based on my profession, maybe I would be a little bit more upset about inaccuracies. The ones in this book didn’t upset me that much, but there’s your fair warning: don’t read this novel as factual.
I liked most of the book. I didn’t like the ending. The actions of the characters at the end were very disappointing. I know it sounds immature and harsh and real reviewers don’t say this, but I found myself saying at one point in the last ten pages “well that was dumb.” But leave off the last ten to fifteen pages, and it’s an intriguing book. The proof of that is in the fact that I still find myself wondering about it.