There are spoilers here. I'm going to talk about this book, not in a book-review type way, but in a when-I-was-done-I-felt-like-this way. Just warning you. If you have any desire to read this book without knowing stuff, you might just want to move along.
State of Wonder (chock full of spoilers!!)
So, when I was going to be on a plane for lots of hours, I asked my Twitter friends for book recommendations, and they reminded me that Swistle said she really liked this book. I think that may have been part of the problem--I went in with expectations. Now, the real thing is, I don't know if Swistle and I have AT ALL the same taste in books, and I think I can say now that we don't. We wouldn't make good book buddies. (Though to be clear, I think we would still make good real buddies, or internet buddies, or whatever.) So, I, for one, liked the title and the cover. I should have known right then that there was going to be a problem. The things Swistle didn't like were the title & the cover. Oh, and the synopsis on the inside jacket, which she said nearly turned her off the book completely. Except, I was fascinated. I wanted to hear more. And I did. To be fair, I liked this book a lot, until about the last 100 pages or so. Then I wanted to throw it at a wall and scream at the author. I felt betrayed.
So, the book is basically about a lady from Minnesota who is half Indian (from the continent, not Native American--which is my nice way of saying "dots, not feathers") who works for a big drug company who gets sent to the Amazon to try to convince the lady conducting research there to come back. She's going only because her colleague went but turned up dead. That much they tell you on the inside jacket flap thingy.
And here's where the spoilers come in.
Seriously, if you don't want to know what happens, go away.
Abandon all hope (of a mystery) all ye who keep reading.
Right, so this lady, in the Amazon... the one doing the research, is a cranky old lady, formidable, and also the former teacher of our main character, Marina. Marina used to work as an OB/GYN but then quit and went into research & they make it mysterious about why... for 2.5 pages then tell you everything. Honestly, I could have done with a little more suspense about that. I was intrigued & interested about the WHY--why did Marina dread seeing her old teacher/doctor friend? Oh, you're just going to tell me? Oh... ok then. Mystery solved. So then I was sort of uninterested again. They tell you that Cranky Old Lady is doing research into fertility treatments... ok, as an OB doctor that sort of makes sense.
Then lots of stuff happens, and throughout the first 80% of the book, our main character, who is our narrator, keeps telling us that she is "not that kind of woman." Well, she is the kind of woman who is having a relationship with her boss, but she's not the kind of woman who would steal another woman's man. This is important. This is critical. This gets said lots and lots and lots. She goes to console the wife of her dead co-worker and her internal monologue is all "Maybe now we can be friends, since she won't think of me as a threat to her marriage, even though I never was." Ok, fine. I get it. She's in love with her boss, not her co-worker.
So more stuff happens. We meet a deaf little boy character who is wonderful and we love him. Marina gets to the jungle and starts taking these fertility treatments that the Amazonian tribeswomen are, as sort of a control group. We discover (SPOILER) that Cranky Old Lady is actually pregnant at age 73, what a shock, aren't we surprised. Yes, yes we are, only I'd worked that one out a couple of chapters ago, thanks. Only, her baby dies and she's not even upset about it, because she was planning on leaving the kid in the jungle anyway, because she's mostly un-feeling and very unlikable. Then lots of stuff happens all at once and here's where I start to hate the book.
Dead colleague isn't dead, just wandered off in some malarial fever haze and is now trapped down the river a bit by some cannibals, who happen to be the real family/tribe of the little deaf boy we love so much.
Ready for the sucky part? Our heroine heads off down the river with the little deaf boy, trades him for her not-dead colleague, comes back to their little village, where they then have sex and go back to the US as though nothing had happened.
GAH!!!! What? All that set up for "I'm not that kind of girl" only, it turns out "I am that kind of girl, but only under extreme circumstances." I felt betrayed. You took the one character I really, really liked and gave him away to CANNIBALS (now, granted, that's his family, those cannibals, but still!) and then... just fly back to the US?
You had sex with your co-worker while taking copious quantities of fertility drugs in the Amazon. What the heck! Someone want to tell me whether or not she got pregnant, and if she did, what then? How do you conceal an affair when there's a baby? Do they continue to work together? They say that it will never happen again, and while I honestly believe that, you just go home and LIE ABOUT IT?!?
I was not pleased. Unanswered questions at the end of a book always leave me a little itchy. Of course, I admit that I was reading this under a giant haze of hormones, but I'm pretty sure I'd still feel the same way. Infidelity is one of those things that really irks me, especially when it's treated casually, like I felt this was. I sort of understand the "it's just a human way to seek comfort" part, but I'm... stodgy? Prudish? Way too conservative? Whatever you want to call it, I don't think it's ok. Share a bed, cry together, hold one another all night--I'm fine with all of that. Get naked & shag? Not okay with that. Vows and all... I take them seriously, even in my fictional characters.
I used to love the English Patient years ago... I wonder if I'd hate it now.
Anyway, that's that. I just had to get it out there.