This is the third Ann Patchett book I’ve read (the others being Run and Bel Canto). I’d place them all in the same general category of literary popular fiction. I really loved Bel Canto and was disappointed by Run, mostly because it didn’t live up to my expectations. State of Wonder falls somewhere in between. It’s not without its problems but overall it’s a well-written entertaining novel.
The storyline is intriguing. A doctor working for a pharmaceutical research company travels to the Amazon to discover what happened to a colleague of hers who recently died while researching a new fertility drug. While there she encounters a group of rogue doctors and a tribe with women having babies into their seventies and she is forced to deal with a major traumatic event in her own past.
Similar to Bel Canto, Patchett does a great job of creating characters that are unlikable but still compelling. She also is one of the best authors I’ve read at presenting multiple sides of a situation so that the reader understands and even sympathizes with each side. In Bel Canto I found myself rooting for the terrorists even though I would find their actions deployable in real life. Patchett is best when dealing with shades of grey. She also is very good at exploring ethical dilemmas but in a way that is not preachy or too didactic.
As much as I liked this book, I didn’t find always find the characters’ motives and actions believable. Similar to Bel Canto, I disliked the ending quite a bit but would agree that the ending is more realistic and ultimately better than the neater (and happier) ending I would have preferred. However, in State of Wonder I felt that Patchett went a little further and ended the book with a scene that I thought was not only disappointing and somewhat sensational but was unrealistic. It left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth even though I had enjoyed the rest of the book. Still, I’d recommend the book overall as a good entertaining and thought-provoking read.