Welcome back to another Write On Purpose book review. Each week, I review a well-written book, highlighting what makes it good from the reader’s perspective and what writing skills and techniques make it an irresistible read. Thus, each review serves both writers and readers.
This week, it's a contemporary medical adventure novel called State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. I read this book about a year ago, and it still sticks with me. That's why I decided to do a review of it here.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Thankfully, the book is much more interesting than the cover. Here is the description from Amazon:
Expect miracleswhen you read Ann Patchett’s fiction.”—New YorkTimes Book Review
Award-winning, New York Times bestsellingauthor Ann Patchett returns with a provocative andassured novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazonrainforest. Infusing the narrative with the same ingenuity and emotionalurgency that pervaded her acclaimed previous novels Bel Canto, Taft, Run, The Magician’s Assistant, and ThePatron Saint of Liars, Patchett delivers anenthrallingly innovative tale of aspiration, exploration, and attachment in State of Wonder—a gripping adventurestory and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name ofdiscovery and love.
Did this memorable book earn a 5 star review from me?No. But I gave it a 4 star review. Read the Amazon book review here.
Excellent Sense of Place
Sense of place means setting., in case that's a new phrase for you. If you read a book that seems as if the actions happen in a closet with the lights out and you can't smell, taste or feel anything, that's a bad sense of place.
Patchett pulls you right into the setting in State of Wonder. Most of it is set in the Amazon, and you'll practically sweat from the heat and swat at the multitude of bugs. She actually wet to the Amazon for ten days as part of her research for this book.
While certainly not perfect, this plot had some interesting elements. The pacing got too slow in the middle, yet I was engaged enough to keep reading. The issues of medical testing and extension of childbearing years interested me.
The plot of any novel will have variations in pacing. That's part of what makes it interesting. Like life, sometimes things are happening at lightning speed, while at other times, things slow down enough to allow the reader to get to know the characters or explore some other aspect of the story.
The book starts strong and finishes strong, but it suffers from a sagging middle. The plot all but stalls out. The fix for this, in case you're an author who wonders if your book's middle is too slow, is to take a good pair of (figurative) scissors and go through your story. Snip away any excess words, long descriptions, or extended passages in which the plot is not moving.
The pacing doesn't need to feel frenetic, but it should feel as if we're still moving along the path of the tale. Get some "beta readers" who see the book before it's published to tell you if there are any places they skipped or wanted to blow past quickly. Those need a major edit.
Willing Suspension of Disbelief
When reading any work of fiction, willing suspension of disbelief is what allows you to believe in the world of the story, even if there are fanciful or speculative elements. A true crime novel is intended to be true-to-life. Thrillers, adventures, and fantasies are among those that have some wiggle room in terms of plot accuracy.
Patchett throws around a lot of possible science in this book Dealing with a wonder-plant from the Amazon that has a wide variety of medical uses puts this book into the speculative realm.
While some reviewers have faulted the science of the novel, I do not. If you expect 100% accuracy, you won't even truly get that in nonfiction, but that is where you would expet to find the more accurate reality.
I willingly suspended disbelief because the writing is good enough that I felt it was plausible that a plant could have divergent uses in fertility and disease prevention. There are, after all, many wondrous plants on this beautiful earth that serve many functions.
Idea VS Character
Some books are based on the development of the main characters. Plot is secondary in this sort of story, because the emphasis is on personal growth of the point of view character. Other novels are moved by the central idea. Such is the case with State of Wonder.
Even though the storytelling flounders in the middle, it is the main premise of the book that drives both the action and the character growth that occur.
Characters and Character Development
The characters are mostly well drawn, if not complex. Some stories are more plot-focused and others more character-focused. This is the former, and that's OK. The characters are sufficiently interesting.
Dr. Marina Singh, our protagonist, is haunted by her past and the encounter with her former mentor. Lots of emotional baggage there. Marina may seem to be weak, but I would say she is emotionally wounded and conflicted so much that she is not a decisive person. I'm not sure why some people expect every female point-of-view character to be strong and decisive. Not all women are.
The character that stuck in my mind most after all these months is crusty old Dr. Annick Swenson, who makes a huge gamble in pursuit of her goals. She is missing as the story begins, and what she is attempting brings up issues of medical and personal ethics.
While Dr. Sing makes some change in the course of the novel, Swenson changes most.
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Ronda Del Boccio
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