When I read Bel Canto a few months ago with Reading Buddies and strongly disliked the ending, I told myself I’d give Ann Patchett another chance before I made up my mind about her novels. When I found out Hope Davis, whose narration of Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light was absolutely fantastic, did State of Wonder, I decided to give it a try.
About the Book:
When Dr. Marina Singh finds out her former lab mate at Vogel Pharmaceutical, Anders Eckman, has died of a fever in the jungle, she is shocked and saddened. Dr. Eckman had gone to Brazil in search of Marina’s old professor, Dr. Swenson. The latter has supposedly been developing a potentially lucrative drug for years but has cut herself off from all outside communication, preferring to continue her work unmolested in a hidden corner of the Amazon.
When Dr. Eckman’s wife hears the news, she begs Marina to go to Brazil herself, to learn the details of Anders’ death at the very least. And when Marina’s boss decides they must get through to Dr. Swenson, Marina finds herself agreeing to go. What follows is Marina’s adventure in Brazil, among secretive scientists and the tribe they’re studying.
I was really hoping my reaction to Bel Canto was a one-time fluke, that whatever I read next of Ann Patchett’s would sit better with me and I’d dive into her backlist enthusiastically. Not so. With Bel Canto, I found myself sinking into the novel, really enjoying myself, only to be jarred back into reality by an incongruous ending. Sadly, the same thing happened with State of Wonder. In both cases, the ending felt wrong, like Patchett wasn’t sure how to wrap things up and just picked an easy way out. All the threads and themes she had so carefully developed throughout suddenly felt forgotten, and I was twice left wondering at such an abrupt conclusion.
I have no doubt that readers who are already Patchett fans will love State of Wonder. I spent the first 95% thinking I certainly would. Patchett’s writing is beautiful, her characters are clear and complex, and her stories evolve in unexpected yet believable ways. But for me, she’s 0 for 2 with her endings. I find it disappointing to invest so much time and energy in a book only to lose your connection in the final pages and walk away dissatisfied. The beauty of the rest of the book is negated when that happens, at least for me.
Hope Davis, on the other hand, was splendid. She is a wonderful narrator, the kind who simultaneously brings the story gloriously to life and is so skillfully unobtrusive that all your focus is on the novel, not on her presence as reader. She has a unique way of gently inflecting certain lines in a way that makes me smile, whether or not humor was intended by the author. I would listen to her read almost anything. If you are a Patchett fan, I would absolutely recommend State of Wonder on audio.