Book Review: 'State Of Wonder'

A new novel from Ann Patchett, called State of Wonder, is set in the Amazon jungle where a drug has been found that can keep women fertile into their 70s.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now a piece of literary fiction about a medical mystery deep in the Amazonian jungle. It's the latest novel from Ann Patchett called "State of Wonder."

Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE: The set-up for Patchett's ultimately quite attractive plot is a bit slow. There's a drug that allows women to become pregnant into their 70s and beyond. Finding the essence of that drug is the goal of research performed deep in the Amazon delta by an elusive physician named Annick Swenson.

The big Minnesota drug company sponsoring Dr. Swenson's research sends a company doctor down to ascertain the state of her progress. And he reportedly dies of fever. The company next sends the dead doctor's lab partner, who's also a former medical student of the recalcitrant Dr. Swenson.

This doctor is an Indian-American named Marina Singh. She flies to the Amazonian town of Manaus and eventually heads into the jungly territory of the Amazon.

So the set-up is slow, but the Amazon setting is something Patchett does rather marvelously. She gives us the jungle and its flora and fauna, especially its bugs, in all of its fascinating and worrisome reality. She makes us feel quite at home among the tribe whose women bear children late into life.

Marina, the lab doc, has her problems living in the jungle. She butts heads with her old medical professor and at one point battles a huge anaconda. All of this works beautifully against the background of the unfolding loyalties and rivalries among the various researchers at the tribal grounds where grows the so-called Martin tree that may be at the root of all the late-life fertility.

The book is serious, but also so pleasurable that you hope it won't end. This jungle may bug the characters but it's not so hard on the reader.

NORRIS: The book is "State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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