Bowdoin Reads

Professor Vanderwolk is reading...

State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett

All good literature is character-driven, and Ann Patchett’s recent novel, State of Wonder, is no exception. Patchett proved in Bel Canto that she can create engaging characters even if the plot is somewhat implausible. In State of Wonder, she takes her readers to the Amazon jungle on a journey that occasionally makes us think she is channeling Thomas Pynchon as well as Joseph Conrad. Her heroine, a scientist named Marina Singh, must find out why her research partner has gone missing in the jungle. In the process she learns that the women of the indigenous tribes continue to have children late in life by licking the bark of a certain tree. Despite the silliness of the plot, the novel is redeemed by Singh’s relationship with her possibly mad mentor, Annick Swenson, who is working in the jungle for the same pharmaceutical company as Singh and her missing partner. Patchett manages to weave in interesting ethical questions about the modern world and our effect upon it, but what kept me reading was wondering how the relationship between the two women, one straight-laced, the other highly eccentric, would develop. Instead of twists in the plot, I was interested in twists in character development, and Patchett certainly delivered.

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