State of Wonder

I spend so much of my reading time with books sent by publicists, that sometimes I fall behind in books I want to read. Such was the case with State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. I had loved her 2001 Bel Canto; not so much Run (2007). But the early reviews grabbed me, as did friends’ recommendations. (Thanks, especially, to my Barnard buddy Jan Petrow, who is always reading–and drinking wine.) Finally a few days ago I downloaded the book on my iPad. The first night I read until 1 a.m., the second way past midnight. Last night I had only a few pages to go–alas fewer than I expected, something that happens with an ebook since it counts even the blank pages and colophon at the end. Still, while I thought I wanted the book to go on and on–the plot becomes truly gripping in the last chapter–when I hit the last word, I wasn’t sorry. I was moved. The book is perfect, not a word too many or too few, each one carefully chosen and put on a page. All day I’ve been thinking about her technique, about how for a short bit a unlikeable has to become sympathetic. Patchett makes that work. Also, the main character befriends someone pretty silly. That works too. The plot? A pharmaceutical scientist from Minnesota takes a trip to the Amazon to inquire into the death of a colleague who had made the trip to report on the development of an amazing drug that would prove a game changer for mankind. And, no, I won’t say what the drug is, because the reader doesn’t know for the first part and I’m not doing spoilers. But here’s another amazing thing about State of Wonder: I couldn’t guess how things would turn out, something that happens to me with most novels. I won’t know the specifics, but from about page 10 I can tell you who dies and who marries. Oh, I thought one thing and then another while I was reading. But I had to wait for the end to happen. This book will win all kinds of prizes this year; they will be much deserved. (Clicking on the book cover will take you to the Barnes & Noble site.)