Ann Patchett raises the bar with State of Wonder, a provocative and ambitious novel set deep in the Amazon jungle.
Research scientist Dr. Marina Singh is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have disappeared in the Amazon while working on an extremely valuable new drug. The last person who was sent to find her died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding answers to the questions about her friend's death, her company's future, and her own past.
Once found, Dr. Swenson is as imperious and uncompromising as ever. But while she is as threatening as anything the jungle has to offer, the greatest sacrifices to be made are the ones Dr. Swenson asks of herself, and will ultimately ask of Marina.
State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss. It is a tale that leads the listener into the very heart of darkness, and then shows us what lies on the other side.
Best-selling author Ann Patchett and accomplished actor Hope Davis make a stellar combination for Patchett's latest novel, State of Wonder, an homage to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Davis deftly voices an international cast of medical researchers in the Amazon jungle. Her talents enhance Patchett's artistically descriptive prose, in many cases coiling the jungle imagery closer than you may want.
Hope Davis voices Dr. Marina Singh's stoic professionalism as she, a pharmacologist, is sent to the Amazon jungle by her employer to seek information about the death of a colleague. Only months earlier Dr. Anders Eckman had also been sent by the pharmaceutical company to investigate the secretive research of formidable Dr. Annick Swenson. In a terse, unemotional letter, Dr. Swenson has announced Dr. Eckman to be dead and buried.
Patchett's gift is to give characters multiple, very human layers, and Davis' gift is to bring those creations to life. Dr. Singh's reserve falls apart as she is plagued by unsettling nightmares and vivid memories of past medical mistakes. Dr. Annick Swenson's imperious personality has, through Hope Davis, the ability to intimidate through your earbuds. Dr. Swenson's arrogance keeps everyone quaking until, as the story unfolds, Davis' tone allows hints of humanity to ease through the doctor's sharp-edged exterior. Davis easily moves from dialects as the individual personalities - among them, a West African doctor, an Indonesian researcher, and a self-absorbed Australian couple - flow one from the other. Davis gives a brilliant performance of a prickly, uncomfortable argument between the married couple Alan and Nancy Saturn, making all who are listening want to distract themselves with the scenery.
Terrain itself becomes if not a character, a force, in State of Wonder. Contrasting Dr. Singh's beloved Minnesota plains with the claustrophobic, crawling, itching, frighteningly enveloping jungle, Patchett's words offer Hope Davis another opportunity to shine artistically. Davis infuses Patchett's prose with palpable energy, allowing listeners to exult in the wide, open prairies of the Midwest and then sense the creeping terror of forbidding, dangerously alive Amazonian jungle. While Davis' depiction of a confrontation with an anaconda is not to be missed, be forewarned that Patchett's imagery and Davis' performance will put anyone listening right beside the panic-stricken fictional characters as a life-and-death battle ensues.
For fans of Ann Patchett, State of Wonder is all that one has been waiting for and more. The story has as many twists and turns as, well, the Amazon jungle itself. And Hope Davis takes the joy of a new Ann Patchett book to an even higher level of pleasure through her masterful performance. It is a fantastically compelling adventure trip without the hazards of incessant bug bites, poisonous critters, or sweltering heat. Carole Chouinard
“An expansive page-turner . . . Patchett’s fluid prose dissolves in the suspense of this out-there adventure . . . that readers will hate to see end.” (Publishers Weekly starred review)
“An engaging, consummately told tale.” (New York Times)
“A superbly rendered novel. . . . Patchett’s portrayal is as wonderful as it is frightening and foreign. Patchett exhibits an extraordinary ability to bring the horrors and the wonders of the Amazon jungle to life, and her singular characters are wonderfully drawn. . . . Powerful and captivating.” (Library Journal, starred review)
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