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#419 ~ State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Published by: Harper

Published on: June 2011

Page Count: 388

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Reading Format: Audiobook rented from my local public library.

Audiobook Published by: Harper Audio

Narrator: Hope Davis

Audiobook Length: 12 hours 25 minutes

Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook

Armchair Audies Category: Literary Fiction


My Review

Ann Patchett’s latest novel tells the story of Marina Singh, a pharmacologist in her mid 30s who came to her profession by way of an accident that occurred during her OB/GYN residency. Marina is happily working for Vogel, a pharmaceutical company, when she receives news that her coworker, Dr. Anders Eckman died in the Brazilian rain forest while on a mission to discover the status of the fertility project Dr. Swenson has been developing there for Vogel. Mr. Fox, Marina’s employer and lover, asks Marina to go to the jungle to bring back information about the deceased Dr. Eckman as well as to get check up on Dr. Swenson’s project. What Mr. Fox does not know is that Dr. Swenson the physician who taught Marina everything she knew about obstetrics and gynecology. It is not without trepidation that Marina makes the journey to Dr. Swenson and the Lakashi people. It is an understatement to say that Dr. Swenson intimidates Marina. This trip into the unknown forces Marina to confront all of her ghosts.

Not since The Emperor’s Children have I been as irritated by a reading experience as I was with State of Wonder. Whereas I considered The Emperor’s Children death by character development, State of Wonder was death by whining psychoanalysis. Spending time with Marina continually grated on my nerves. When she wasn’t rehashing the effects of the malaria drug she had to take in order to travel, she was over analyzing herself and others. With each mention of Dr. Swenson’s name came a fresh batch of anxiety. Had the book been half the length, this wouldn’t have had the chance to fester within me the way that it did. I kept hoping that when Marina finally came into contact with Dr. Swenson that the crisis as such would be over. I’d hoped that she would be able to let go of her own issues and focus on the tasks at hand. Not so. Even Dr. Swenson herself commented on how Marina focused on the minute details of unimportant things. On Marina’s first night at Dr. Swenson’s camp, it was so bad that when her thought processes finally slowed down so that she could fall asleep I applauded. Alas, the celebration was short lived. She immediately had a dream. Sigh.

State of Wonder is nominated for an Audie award in the Literary Fiction category. It is for this reason that I finally read the novel and it is for this reason that I finished it. Had I attempted to read this book in print, I very much doubt I would have made it to Marina’s flight to Brazil. For someone as intelligent as Marina, she never seemed to have any confidence in her own abilities. She virtually appointed Dr. Swenson guardianship of her self-worth. This intensified after her last experience as an OB/GYN resident. At the age of 35, Marina very much needed her experience in the jungle to force her to live life instead of beiing afflicted by it.

State of Wonder did start to pick up once Marina got to the camp. She met and bonded with Easter, the 10-year-old deaf boy from another tribe who helped Dr. Swenson. He was a character I could finally embrace. Also, I found Dr. Swenson more tolerable than I had expected her to be given Marina’s extensive inner dialog leading up to her arrival in Manaus. I did find it appropriate that it was the doctors from Michigan who gave me my only chuckle. It was nice to finally be able to experience the world within this novel outside of Marina’s head.

State of Wonder was my first experience with Hope Davis’ narration. While I wish I had an overall better experience, I very much credit her with making it possible for me to finish the book. Although she did use some voice differentiation, she kept the characters distinct mainly through tone and attitude. I didn’t notice this at much at first when Marina and Dr. Eckman’s wife Karen were in conversation, but it was readily apparent once Dr. Swenson arrived on scene. While I wanted to wish the story swiftly to its end many times, her pacing was consistent and appropriate to the story throughout. I hope to one day get a chance to experience her work with a book I enjoy.

There were many times that I actually despised State of Wonder. I wanted out of Marina’s head and I wanted a grown woman to stop calling her peers – not to mention her lover – by their given names. I didn’t want to slap Marina, I just wanted to walk away and be done with her. I do think that my impatience with Marina’s stemmed from being able to see something of myself in her. I am a pleaser as well and have given many other people the keys to my happiness. Seeing what that type of thought process looks like is not pretty, especially when belonging to a professional 35-year-old woman. In the end, I did not hate this book. As I reached the very last disc, I stopped regretting not DNFing the book six discs ago. The story finally meant something to me and I was grateful. It was by no means a resounding “Hooray!”, but State of Wonder did provide a small pay off for my perseverance.

16 Comments

  • At 2012.04.04 07:11, Sandy said:

    I am chuckling. I actually did like this book, but I’m not sure if I would have felt the same had I read it. I thought the story was compelling and surreal. Everything that was going on out there in the jungle was just fascinating to me! Did I like Marina? No. I would not want to hang out with that woman. But I thought the plot was compelling and the writing gorgeous. And yay Hope Davis. I could listen to her read the phone book.

    • At 2012.04.04 11:33, Literate Housewife said:

      Hope Davis is great. I wish I had found it compelling earlier in the book. That would have made a difference. Ah well. You can’t like everything. :)

    • At 2012.04.04 10:48, David Wilcox said:

      I think Ann Patchett is a great author I especially liked her “Bel Canto”. I am sorry you did not really like the book, but I think you are guilty as you admit of bias. “State of Wonder was on the NY Times Best Seller List for many week, for good reason, its very good. The audio book was narrated by Hope Davis who does a fine job. To all of your other readers I would like to give my highest recommendation to “State of Wonder”.

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      • At 2012.04.04 11:35, Literate Housewife said:

        Thanks for stopping by and expressing your support for State of Wonder. I loved Bel Canto and I wholeheartedly agree that Ann Patchett is a talented writer. I didn’t go into the book with a bias against it. I wanted to love it. This just wasn’t the Ann Patchett novel for me. Here’s hoping we’ll agree on her next novel.

      • At 2012.04.04 11:39, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

        I didn’t love this book but I think I liked it better than you did. Having said that, I didn’t like the ending at all – it seemed out of character to me.

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        • At 2012.04.05 05:06, sagustocox said:

          I have had reservations about picking up this book.

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          • At 2012.04.05 05:14, Leeswammes (Judith) said:

            I loved reading your review of this book! I actually enjoyed the book and am keen to re-read it sometime soon (the paper copy, I don’t have the audio book). I didn’t like Marina’s relationship with this awful lover of hers, but otherwise I felt very much being taken on an adventure in a place that I’m not likely to ever visit. And for that, I loved it.

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            • At 2012.04.05 10:44, Alex (Sleepless Reader) said:

              I’ve read a lot of review of this one but my instincts somehow told me: stay away! It’s indeed a credit to the narrator that you kept going. After listening to my first Armchair Audies book, I was actually wondering just how much the quality of the book will influence my (and the real Audies judges’) review.

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              • At 2012.04.08 14:02, Bob said:

                I had a similar situation with Solaris. I didn’t “hate” the story, it just was full of endless exposition that felt like I was trapped listening to someone go on and on. If it wasn’t for airmchair audies, I probably would have DNF it, but persevered, and am glad I did.

                I glad you found something to take out of the book. The great thing about reading, is there’s always the next book.

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                • At 2012.04.08 14:24, Karen White said:

                  Hmm. This one has been sitting on my nightstand for a while. I have loved Patchett’s previous books, which is why I bought it, but every time I pick it up and read the description, I end up not starting it. Now that possibility is looking even bleaker!
                  I did want to recommend a Hope Davis narration: ALL ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE by Lynne Rae Perkins. Although this is officially a book for kids, it’s a great book. Wonderful exploration of middle years girls relationships and just good evocative writing. Hope Davis was a great choice for it as she doesn’t sound at all like many narrators who read for kids, her voice has such gravity, and she gets the emotionality of the book just right. It’s not on Audible for some reason; we got it at the library. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1057369.All_Alone_in_the_Universe

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                          • At 2014.04.06 12:23, Anne Simonot said:

                            Hmmm… I Googled reviews of this one to see if I was the only one who’s not loving this book. My copy is narrated by Nancy Baldwin, though, and she’s part of the reason I’m not. Flat, affectless, and dull, with an irritating edge and articulation… almost little girlish, somehow. So inappropriate to the book’s content somehow. I wish I had a Hope Davis copy, maybe it would help! I also think the book is full of very unappealing characters. I’m not quite halfway thru and I think it’s going to be a DNF for me.

                            • At 2014.04.06 14:27, Jennifer said:

                              Anne, I would have DNFd this book had I not been listening to it for Armchair Audies. It really just wasn’t for me.

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