Tuesday, Aug. 09, 2011 at 05:00 AM
After reading “Bel Canto” many years ago, I fell in love with author Ann Patchett and carried my adoration of her writing through four other books, each time fearful I might be disappointed, as so often happens.
I needn’t panic.
Patchett’s latest, “State of Wonder,” is exquisite storytelling. Methodically and masterfully, Patchett weaves a subtle, yet powerful, tale with an ending that haunts me; an ending she had prepared me for — though I was still surprised — and as much as I regret, is perfect.
We travel from a bustling Minnesota city to the Amazon jungle with Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmacologist with a large pharmaceutical company. She is ill-suited for the journey but determined to satisfy her employer’s concerns for the research being conducted there on the company’s behalf, as well as discover the truth about the death of a colleague who had been sent there before her.
With her trademark literary style — succinct, almost sparse narrative — Patchett immerses us in a fictional culture far-removed from our own world, from modern technology and convenience. Her characters are complex and at the same time, simple and straightforward. She creates heart-pounding situations that are both bizarre and believable, so accurate in detail that we have no choice but to accept — an anaconda that almost crushes a young boy; a tribeswoman who nearly loses her life, and the life of her baby, in childbirth; threats of malaria and monsoons. For a time, we forget about traffic and noise and Midwestern winters and embrace wild mushrooms and mosquito netting.
I appreciate Patchett’s respect for the reader — not telling us everything, but allowing us to see and figure out for ourselves. I couldn’t wait to settle down and read each night, yet I hated to finish it — the most wonderful compliment of all.