Monday, September 12, 2011

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (2011)

When two of my favorite authors come out with a new book the same year, it is time to celebrate. With Geraldine Brooks' Caleb's Crossing and now Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, I don't have to make choices about what to read, these will always be worthwhile.

Without looking up how someone else has characterized Ann Patchett, it is hard for me to say what makes her so appealing. I've liked her from the first books of hers I read about terrorists in Peru holding a whole elaborate party hostage in Bel Canto and the non-fiction story of her friendship with Lucy Grealy in Truth and Beauty. I can't say that her books are earth shattering, but something about them appeals to me, their humanness, most of them are somewhat off the beaten path, the interactions in them are interesting.

State of Wonder is about Marina Singh, a doctor who left gynecology and went into pharmaceutical research is sent to the Amazon to find out what happened to a colleague that died of a fever down there, and how the research is going on a fertility drug her company is sponsoring. She has to face Dr. Anneck Swenson, her former professor, now a fanatic jungle researcher.

I don't know how to describe this book or to definitely say what it is really about, but I like the unique characters. Marina was complex with a focus on her career, but very human - the way she cared about her colleague and his wife, the clandestine love she has with her boss Mr. Fox, the way she got attached to the child in the forest, how the natives connected with her. Dr. Swanson was  very brilliant, dedicated, secretive, commanding, a bit unscrupulous, gets her way, but also became human as we learn about her past - someone that Katharine Hepburn would have played in a movie.

And then there was the Amazon as a character with its oppressive heat, insects, humidity and drenching rains, but at the same time, great beauty. I liked getting a closer feel for the place and for what it would take to develop new medicines from its wealth. But, I have to say that I am not drawn to visit the place.

On (as opposed to the river) I found an interview of Patchett by Elizabeth Gilbert - another author I enjoy, and turns out they are great friends. I found out that Patchett had visited the Amazon to research this book, but liked it for about four days, the rest was not fun anymore.

Treachery in Death by J.D. Robb (2011)

Just needed something to keep me awake on a couple of night drives, and police Lt. Eve Dallas with her sidekick Peabody and computer wiz husband Roark manage to do this. Only (!) two deaths during the course of the book, lots of techno outmaneuvering. I like the maturing of Dallas' relationship with Roark, where they actually take a walk in the garden and talk about putting a fish pond. Peabody gets to be primary on one of the homicides, so she too is evolving. But this is after she overhears two cops discussing a deal of theirs that has gone sour. Eve takes on removing the corruption from the department. Somehow Roberts/Robb can never finish one of these books without Eve getting in a physical fight - this time a cat fight. Ah well, kept me from falling asleep at the wheel.