State of Wonder



Brooklyn, NY
United States
New York US

“Last year was a big year for me. I birthed a baby (my second) and a book (my first). Unfortunately, reading for pleasure was a casualty of all this creative activity. I found time to read exactly four books last year. One was a book about how to put your baby to sleep; another was Tamar Adler’s phenomenal paean to better living through simple-yet-righteous eating, An Everlasting Meal (Scribner, 2011). The third was Chang-rae Lee’s epically sad, hard-to-forget-even-if-I-wanted-to war novel, The Surrendered (Riverhead Books, 2010), which I wept my way through during summer vacation. The fourth was Ann Patchett’s magnificent State of Wonder (HarperCollins, 2011). I’ve read every one of her novels, from The Magician’s Assistant (Harcourt Brace, 1998) to Bel Canto (HarperCollins, 2001), even Taft (Harper Perennial, 2003) and Run (Harper, 2007)—her only misfire, in my opinion. State of Wonder left me breathless and energized, anxious to get back to writing and nervous that I’ll never be as good a writer as she is. In it, an unlikely heroine—a scientist! approaching middle age!—embarks on a perilous journey to uncover the truth behind a colleague’s disappearance in the Amazonian delta. The narrative is richly populated with complex, interesting characters, including the emotionally repressed protagonist and her former mentor, who’s gone rogue on the pharmaceutical company they both work for and refuses to report on her progress in developing a miracle drug that will cure malaria. The story centers around these two morally compromised, deeply fallible, highly intelligent women. Patchett’s expansive imagination drops them into a story that includes a giant anaconda, cannibals, water snakes, a deaf indigenous boy, and tree bark which, when nibbled, will make a woman fertile forever. That’s some skillful storytelling right there. If my own prose strikes anything near the same exquisite balance between down-to-earth and lyrical, I’ll be ecstatic. State of Wonder made me glad to be a writer, and a mother—and glad that I didn’t squander my precious reading time on anything less.” 

Amy Brill