Do you remember reading hardbound and paperback novels? Many of you still do read paper books. However, for those of us who have transitioned to Kindle, do you remember? Do you remember that while reading them you would become curious as to how much of the book remained? You would flip through the pages that were left to read. Sometimes you might glance at a page and see if the words on it provided a clue as to where the story was going. Some of us would even read the last page first.
With State of Wonder, I was craving the extra pages to flip through. It was an excellent book, very well written, with excellent characters… but I just wanted to know. Essentially, I wanted to know how long I was going to be hanging out in the jungle until something interesting and relevant happened. For some reason, I was losing patience.
The premise of the story is that a woman learns that her coworker, Dr. Eckman, who had been doing research in the Amazon jungle, had died. Those who loved him were experiencing conflict with two opposing thoughts: (1) they felt he was not dead; and (2) if he was, they wanted his body to come back home. The challenge was that communication with those in the Amazon was difficult, so Dr. Eckman’s employer sent someone down to the Amazon to find out what happened. They sent his coworker, Dr. Marina Singh.
The story is about Marina’s experience in the Jungle. While the reason for her going there was to find Dr. Eckman, that idea quickly fades into the background. In fact, as you are reading the book, you almost forget about him. You become fascinated by the Lakashi. You become curious about Dr. Swenson. You enjoy the camaraderie of Easter. You forget about Dr. Eckman, and you secretly wish that Marina stayed in the Amazon where story after story can unfold.
While the immersion into the jungle was fantastic, the fate of Dr. Eckman did gnaw at the back of my mind. I wanted to flip the pages to the back of the book to see if his name jumped off of any of them. Reading them on a Kindle, I could not. I did the next best thing, and I went to Google to find out his fate. (I just realized I could have searched for his name… maybe next time.)
I won’t divulge what happened to Dr. Eckman. I will just say that a story can feel almost anticlimactic when what you are told is the purpose of a main character’s actions becomes such a small part of the story. If we understood the purpose to be understanding more about the Amazon, the Lakashi, and Dr. Swenson’s motives, then perhaps there would have been no need to look ahead. The book could have simply been enjoyed as it progressed along.
Ann Patchett is an outstanding writer. I am just a person sitting at a desk writing a review. I do not feel qualified to provide a critique. However, if I were to write a similar book, I would have developed the character of Dr. Eckman as the story developed. I might have included almost complete chapters of flashback to when he was working in the jungle. This might prevent us from missing his character since we could now move with the character instead.
Overall, this was an excellent story. Patchett does a beautiful job taking us through the jungle and introducing us to a culture many of us will never experience. I also appreciated the consistency of her complex characters. Dr. Swenson could not have been an easy character to develop, but she really made the woman come alive off of the pages.