My all-encompassing love for Ann Patchett is not a secret. She is my absolute favorite living author and I own every single one of her books. (Side note: remember that time she came to Chattanooga and I couldn't afford to go to the signing - still bitter about that). I've been anxiously waiting on the release State of Wonder for a while now, so when TLC gave me the opportunity to review, you know I was all over it. The day it came in the mail I called Luke at work because I was so excited. And when I started it last week he told me he couldn't believe I had waited three whole weeks to read it. But I wanted to draw out the anticipation as long as I could - and it was SO worth it. The complexity of the plot, the themes, and the characters is way to difficult to describe in detail without giving things away, so I'll just summarize by saying: the Amazon, a miracle fertility drug, anacondas, cannibals, and the mystery surrounding a man's death. Read the full publisher's description here for more details. The book is fascinating and engrossing and below I will tell you all of the reasons why you ought to go find a copy of this book and start reading now.
This novel is no Bel Canto. And by that I don't mean that it isn't as good as Bel Canto - I mean it is so completely different from that novel and everything else that the author has written that the two defy comparison. It's one of Patchett's strengths, I think, that she can craft a beautiful story that is so completely different from everything else she's written. Another thing that I loved about this book in particular, and most of her other books, is that it's not about anything. I mean, it has a plot, and it's obviously got a compelling story, but it's not an issue book. It's not a book about being a woman, or a book about falling in love, or a book about a timely topic. Even though a good portion of the story centers around the development of this miracle fertility drug, the book isn't making a statement about fertility treatments or addressing the current state of pharmaceuticla companies - she's just telling a beautiful, unique story. And, yes, questions of morality and ethics are raised, but not in the way they are in so many "issues' books.
Patchett also does an excellent job, as always, with setting. Like Bel Canto the book is set in South America, but that is where the similarities end. The descriptions of the insects, the heat, the trees, the suffocating atmosphere are integral to the story and are conveyed beautifully. I would go as far as to say that the jungle itself is a character in the book and the way Patchett weaves it into every part of the story is engrossing.
I have absolutely zero complaints about the writing. Beautiful, moving, engrossing, perfect.
Again, not a single complaint. I have to admit that I am not typically one to grab up literary fiction. I think most of the time literary fiction sounds like it's trying to be literary and winds up being boring. It's fashionable to write books about people who are bored with life, which can make for very boring reading. This is an exception to the rule. Not only is the writing amazing, but the book as a whole is engrossing. From the first page I was committed to finding out what would happen to the characters.
The characters themselves are believable and largely sympathetic. I love when authors are able to make unlikable characters sympathetic. It's so much closer to real life. People do bad things and make bad decisions, but they also have redeeming characteristics. In reality people are rarely completely wicked or completely noble and pure, and Patchett's characters follow reality.
Honestly, I just can't recommend this one highly enough. It hasn't taken the place of Bel Canto as my favorite Patchett book, but it has come in as a very very close second. And really it's hard to compare the two at all because they are such very different books. I rarely recommend a book to every reader. I usually give some stipulation ("You'll love this if you're a fan of YA" or "this one is for people who are interested in romance"), but I truly think anyone and everyone can and should read this one. Seriously. If you can read what I'm typing right now, there is no reason I can think of that you wouldn't love State of Wonder.
Major, major thanks to Trish at TLC for letting me in on this tour! For all of the tour information and to see other readers' opinions, check out the tour page here.