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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 71.0° F  Partly Cloudy


A Book A Week: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

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I can't believe I haven't written about Ann Patchett's State of Wonder yet. I read it over a month ago. I think I have been saving it up as a treat because I loved it so much. Ann Patchett is a great writer who can manage a complicated story with the right mixture of action and explication, create sympathetic, compelling characters, and explore unknown territory with vigor and excitement.

State of Wonder describes a Heart of Darkness type journey, with the Amazon standing in for the Congo and a renegade doctor, Annick Swenson, as Kurtz. Charles Marlow is transformed into Marina Singh, a pharmaceutical researcher sent by her employer in Minnesota to Swenson's research station in Brazil. Marina is charged with discovering the answers to several mysteries, including what happened to Anders Eckman, the man originally sent to find Dr. Swenson, and what, exactly, is taking Dr. Swenson so long to finish her promised research.

What is she up to out there in the jungle? And why is she so reluctant to communicate with her sponsors? The answers to some of these questions provide unanticipated plot developments that kept me reading late into the night.

Marina, unprepared and alone, must navigate a complex web of social and environmental obstacles to find Swenson and figure out what's going on. Some of these obstacles include a complicated history with Swenson, who was a former teacher of Marina's; Swenson's recalcitrant gatekeepers (a hippy dippy Australian couple); a journey up the Amazon river; and crushing heat, insects, snakes, native tribe members with poisoned arrows, and psychedelic mushrooms. I really enjoyed the tension and sense of adventure that this book offers. It's a great combination of relationship story and action novel.

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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