Ann Patchett surprised me when I read Bel Canto. It was one of those books that you hear dropped into conversation at grocery stores and Ann Taylor Lofts, and you would find it in spades at local bookstores after a book club finished with their pick of the month. I read it a year ago and still happen upon fond memories about the opera singer and the japanese business man, the translator, the predicament. And yet, whenever I see another Ann Patchett book, I remain unenthused. Maybe it’s their milquetoast covers, or non-committed titles. Run. The Patron Saint of Liars.
and now State of Wonder.
Part of me feels like going to the front of the class and delivering a bad book report for State of Wonder. “I liked this book. It was nice. She really… she really… wrote it.”
That’s probably my deepest quibble with State of Wonder is that it feels very… written. The protagonist is a pharmaceutical company lab rat who suffers from nightmares that don’t amount to anything. There’s a deaf and mute boy named Easter that I couldn’t stop picture as Short Round from the second Indiana Jones movie. If the Romancing the Stone 2 writers need ideas for Joan Wilder and a return trip to the jungle, they could do worse than following the events of this book.
There were moments where the book was magical. A memorable Anaconda attack, a scene of bark-chewing. But it brings to mind another magical book set in an unforgivable jungle, Swamplandia! and Karen Russell does much better with a sense of urgency.
I liked this book. It was nice. There were characters and a plot. But to me, Ann Patchett wrote Bel Canto and achieved something monumental. And this book doesn’t feel like anything that previous achievement, unfortunately.