State of Dismay

1 01 2012

I recently read three marvelous, mostly nonfic, books on the Amazon region through various periods of time (blog post on that here) so I was excited to check out Ann Patchett’s “State of Wonder.” It had gotten great reviews and takes place in the–you guessed it–Amazon.

Only it doesn’t. Not really. A little less than half the book does. The other time the book spends in Minnesota and in a river town that is the gateway to the Amazon. People could quibble and say that river town counts, but it doesn’t. Why? Because the book moves at a snail’s pace. We have to read boring detail after boring detail of how the protagonist fills her days, and there is none of the river, animal and Indian life that the Amazon itself brings. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The plot goes like this: Marina travels to the Amazon region to check on a project her company is overseeing and also to get more information on a colleague’s death. Along the way, we meet a host of characters. Some we like, some we don’t. There is a deaf Indian boy called Easter who appears halfway and who features significantly afterward. When Easter appeared, I went: “Oh boy” because being deaf myself, I generally avoid reading deaf characters. This may be ironic considering I have a book with a deaf character, but oh well 😉 Thing is, I don’t like to read about deaf characters because they’re often written from the wrong POVs, such as “Let’s help the poor deaf people.”

Reading about Easter made me uncomfortable. He seemed happy, but he was about twelve years old. He had no  language. No one had bothered to communicate with him and teach him some rudimentary sign language. One researcher at the base claimed to love him as if he were her own son, but she did nothing for him communication-wise. This pissed me off, and it’s probably a metaphor for how the Indians have no voice and how that researcher in general treated the Indians.

But, anyway. I’m off on a tangent, and the book is about more than Easter. Marina is a passive, cardboard character, and many of the others have cardboard in their family trees. This may be intentional on Patchett’s part, but intentional or not, it is not a good thing.

The book finally becomes interesting enough to read a little more than halfway through when the true Amazon enters. Even then, the book has more problems than a math textbook. I wish I could buy stock in the Gaping Plot Hole Company, because this book (and many others) would make me a millionaire. I won’t go into the plot issues as not to spoil anyone. There is also a scene at the end of the book where Marina does something in her bed that causes me to lose any little shred of liking for her. It comes across as lazy writing to me.

This book IS worth reading, but barely, and even so, just skip to the second half.

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2 responses

2 01 2012
Bridget Bufford

Too bad. Patchett’s earlier books have been well-written and captivating. I expect I’ll skip this one.

2 01 2012
qkelly

This was the first book by her I’ve read and didn’t make me eager to read her others. However, Bel Canto came up often in the Amazon reviews as a great one, so I may try that.

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