We are pleased to announce the Fall 2011 First Pages bookState of Wonder by Ann Patchett.
About the Book
In State of Wonder, pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. But first she must locate Dr. Anneck Swenson, a renowned gynecologist who has spent years looking at the reproductive habits of a local tribe where women can conceive well into their middle ages and beyond.
Eccentric and notoriously tough, Swenson is paid to find the key to this longstanding childbearing ability by the same company for which Dr. Singh works. Yet that isn’t their only connection: both have an overlapping professional past that Dr. Singh has long tried to forget. In finding her former mentor, Dr. Singh must face her own disappointments and regrets, along with the jungle’s unforgiving humidity and insects, making State of Wonder a multi-layered atmospheric novel that is hard to put down.
Indeed, Patchett solidifies her well-deserved place as one of today’s master storytellers. Emotional, vivid, and a work of literature that will surely resonate with readers in the weeks and months to come, State of Wonder truly is a thing of beauty and mystery, much like the Amazon jungle itself.
About the Author
Author Ann Patchett has been hailed as one of the most interesting and unconventional writers of her generation. Patchett’s power as a writer seems to derive from her unusual ability to make believable the voices of a sweeping array of characters. In 1984, on her twenty-first birthday, Patchett published her first story, “All Little Colored Children Should Learn to Play Harmonica,” a narrative set in the 1940s about a black family with eight children. Patchett, a white woman from Nashville, Tennessee, had actually written the story two years earlier when she was a sophomore at New York’s Sarah Lawrence College. “Because I was nineteen, I had the courage and confidence to approach such subject matter with authority,” she told Elizabeth Bernstein in an interview for Publishers Weekly. Patchett described the origins of her diverse characters as occurring in moments of fantasy. “I never thought it was strange to pick these topics,” she recounted to Bernstein. “I just really believe that using your imagination is the one time in your life you can really go anywhere.”
The Patron Saint of Liars, Patchett’s first novel, shows such imagination. It tells the story of a young pregnant woman who flees from a dull marriage, driving across the country to find a new, different, and unexpected sense of family at St. Elizabeth’s, a Roman Catholic home for unwed mothers in Kentucky. Critics pointed out that the novel may strain belief at times, in particular because it provides no contextual sense of hotly debated social issues surrounding marriage and reproduction in the Catholic Church. However, as Alice McDermott, reviewing the novel in the New York Times Book Review, pointed out, Patchett’s project is to write “a made up story of an enchanted place.” Comparing The Patron Saint of Liars to a fairy tale, McDermott explained that “the world of St. Elizabeth’s, and of the novel itself, … retains some sense of the miraculous, of a genuine, if unanticipated, power to heal.”
Patchett’s next novel, Taft, also received critical praise, though reviewers’ opinions differed as to whether or not this work exceeded Patchett’s achievement in The Patron Saint of Liars. Action centers around a Memphis blues bar called Muddy’s. The black, middle-aged bartender, Nickel, who narrates the story, becomes imaginatively and practically entangled in the life of a white working-class teenager, Fay Taft, and that of her family. Focusing on their relationship, Patchett weaves a multilayered narrative about unconventional kinds of love and improvisational familial ties.
To find out more about Ann Patchett, read her full bio here.