Wondrous Reading


I just finished State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, and I’ve been completely blown away.

And to think I almost didn’t read it. When I first read the plot description (a research pharmacologist in the Amazon jungle?)  I crinkled my nose a little bit. Don’t like the jungle much. Bugs, snakes, murky water, humidity…kind of icky.

The jungle parts of the novel were sometimes horrific. But oh, this is so much more than a jungle tale.

It’s a story of mythic proportions, Dr. Mirina Singh’s odyssey into the wilds in search of answers about the death of her colleague. She’s forced to face all of her deepest fears – of abandonment, of inadequacy, of snakes – and of her most formidable opponent, Dr. Annick Swenson, the esteemed professor who once inadvertently caused Mirina to make a critical mistake in caring for a patient, an error that led her to forsake clinical practice  and became a research pharmacologist.

There were so many times I wanted Mirina to turn back, leave the jungle behind, go home to Minnesota where it  was safe. At first, I thought she stayed because she wanted to please people, a compulsion I myself share and one that has led me into some rather dicey situations, although happily nothing that included poison arrows or killer insects.

But as the novel progressed, I was so glad she had stayed, even though the situation became more and more dangerous and the outcome less and less predictable. Inwardly, I was cheering her on, doing silent fist pumps at her increasing displays of bravery. I had started out reading slowly, even aloud sometimes, savoring every word of Patchett’s dry, almost deadpan tone, noting the tiny moments of sardonic humor. But as the book progressed, I found my eyes racing down the page, not because the writing deteriorated (far from it) but because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. How would Mirina extricate herself from this situation? Would she fully succumb as Dr. Swensen said she would and “become on of them,” never return home to her normal life?

This morning I found myself with three pages left.  The last bit of the book had been like shooting down the rapids, and I couldn’t bring myself to stop reading even though I was about to be late for a rehearsal. When I read the last paragraph, a huge sigh escaped my lips, and I closed my eyes for a moment to calm my racing heart.


Read this one, if you haven’t already.

You’ll be in a State of Wonder for sure.

State of Wonder

Reading Ann Patchett is like talking a master class in writing.

Within the first four pages of State of Wonder, a book the New York Times aptly described as an “immensely touching novel” and “an engaging, consumately told tale,” Patchett has introduced every main character with spare, well chosen details that make them immediately knowable. She has pulled me into a story I was initially lukewarm about, and made me loathe to set the book aside, although I was borrowing time from other pressing morning business. She has made me care already, and care a lot, about what happens next.

In the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed all my reading. But I can tell this one is going to be something altogether different and special.

A master class.

Now tell me, what authors do you read whose work is like a master class?