state-of-wonder

2016 Reading List #72: State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

I bought State of Wonder a month or two ago and couldn’t get over the itch to read it, so it became a project I began slowly before speeding through the majority of the book early last week. Ann Patchett does not disappoint in this twisty adventure story, but the conclusion did leave me a bit dissatisfied.

State of Wonder, in many ways, is a retelling of Joseph Conrad’s most famous work, Heart of Darkness. However, I would’ve liked a bit more of Conrad’s influence here, especially because I kept looking for hints at his story. Though Patchett does plenty to distance her novel from Conrad’s tale, the basic premise is quite similar: Marina Singh, a pharmacologist who works in Minnesota, is sent to retrieve her former mentor from her mysterious research site deep in the Amazon. Dr. Swenson has been developing a fertility drug for years in her remote lab, and readers are quick to question whether her work is really making the progress it should be.

Though I was hoping for the eerie atmosphere of Heart of Darkness, much of Marina’s experiences in the Amazon are pretty mundane, apart from when she saves a young boy from being squeezed to death and some other crazy jungle stuff.

The biggest letdown for me came in the final twenty pages. Patchett delivers a REALLY great twist—seriously, it was totally unexpected and exciting—but the fact that it happens so close to the novel’s conclusion left me with lots of questions I wanted answered. I’m generally a fan of endings that aren’t perfectly tidy, but this was more an instance of feeling like she’d just introduced this great plot element and then left it without adequate exploration.

State of Wonder was my second experience with Ann Patchett (my roommate and I read Bel Canto together earlier this year), and I’d say I’m officially a fan. I look forward to more journeys with her in 2017.

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