BOOK DISCUSSION: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (contains SPOILERS)

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BOOK DISCUSSION: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (contains SPOILERS)

Editado: Maio 6, 2012, 10:20 am

This is a difficult book to discuss without spoilers so I have started this thread for those of us who have finished it.

Editado: Maio 6, 2012, 10:22 am

Bonnie (Brenzi) PMed me yesterday asking what I thought about the idea that Dr. Swenson would keep a child when his parents were looking for him and she knew they were looking for him? I have replied to Bonnie about this but will wait for other people's thoughts before I post mine here!

Maio 6, 2012, 11:21 am

It's been a while since I read the book, but I think Dr. Swenson was so focused on science and finding something to benefit humankind -- in the abstract - that she didn't really care much about people as individuals.

Maio 6, 2012, 5:40 pm

This is some of my rather long (sorry, Bonnie) reply!

I think Dr Swenson's decision demonstrated several things. Firstly that she was not worthy of the hero-worship that Marina had felt for her when she was younger and that her single-mindedness was intensely selfish rather than admirable. She was quite capable of justifying to herself the decision through medical grounds at the time. It also showed the extreme lengths that a woman's longing for a child could lead her to. I suspected that Swenson's willingness to use herself as a guinea pig for the new drug was more than medical dedication. Finally, the cruelty of the decision leads the reader to also look at Anders and Marina's (separate) wishes to take Easter back home with them and question their motives in doing this. I think Easter's charm and everyone's desire to look after him links in with the issue of providing lifelong fertility for those who can afford it (even if at the expense of those in less "developed" countries).

I was also very shocked by Swenson's claiming Anders was dead when he was missing and actually found that more difficult to understand but assume she wouldn't have wanted loads of people coming to look for him! I think ultimately I accepted the more unlikely aspects because the book seemed to me to have a psychological truth where some parts were more symbolic than credible!

Editado: Maio 6, 2012, 5:59 pm

I was disappointed with the stupid love scene between Anders and Marina. Blech.

Maio 6, 2012, 7:09 pm

OMG Jill, yes. Come on. What was Patchett trying to do? That wasn't the only time I scratched my head.

This was my response to Dee.

Well, granted, Swenson was selfish although developing the vaccine could be seen as less self-serving than serving mankind. But really, stealing a child? I really didn't get the idea that that was what she was about. I thought she wanted fame and success in a field where others had failed.

I read the book last fall so some of my memories are a bit fuzzy but I just reread my review and unfortunately, I write my reviews pretty much w/o spoilers, which makes for gaps that you could drive a truck through, so I may get some of this wrong. Revealing that Anders might still be alive redeemed her somewhat in my mind, and the book as a whole.

Editado: Maio 7, 2012, 2:53 am

But really, stealing a child? I really didn't get the idea that that was what she was about. I thought she wanted fame and success in a field where others had failed.

Of course, having children was never part of Swenson's agenda but my interpretation was that Swenson's maternal instinct finally kicked in big time and she wanted Easter.

I was disappointed with the stupid love scene between Anders and Marina. Blech.

Not my favourite part either.

Maybe, the book worked for me because I latched onto the mythological/psychological side of it. I saw it as Marina's story towards self-awareness and self-acceptance which probably helped me to accept some events as more symbolic than credible. I enjoyed the references to the Orpheus & Eurydice myth and how Marina's dreams of her father link with Barbara's hallucination which turns out to be Anders. Once the missing father is retrieved and the powerful, revered, remote and unloving mother figure is proved to be flawed and to need Marina, then Marina starts to become whole.

Maio 7, 2012, 5:46 am

The one thing about the sex scene and the end of the book that occurred to me was that it made sense of Marina's ability to leave the jungle without the bark as any woman who is pregnant doesn't have the urge to use it. Maybe I am reading something that isn't there but it is a possibility.

Maio 13, 2012, 8:39 pm

Just finished it yesterday.

>8 calm:: I wondered that as well. Could it possibly set up a sequel? It didn't seem that she would be willing to give up the bark so quickly and be ready to leave so quickly, either.

About Dr. Swenson, I think she said both Easter and Anders died out of expediency for herself and her beloved research. She didn't want anything to interfere with that. I, too, think she had the yearning for a child, even an adopted one. Plus, he did many, many things for her, which she no doubt enjoyed as well.

I did not love State of Wonder as much as Bel Canto but still liked it quite a bit. Not sure where I'll put it yet in my star rating or on my ranking of the shortlist titles. Still mulling that over.

Maio 23, 2012, 1:39 am

I just finished this today and am still putting my thoughts together. But I liked it very much.

I do remember, when the book first came out, comparisons to Heart of Darkness and the monomaniacal Kurtz. While I don't think Dr. Swenson comes off quite as a Kurtz figure, the part about stealing Easter and lying about Anders' death both point in that direction, making her seem like an obsessive character who has crossed some lines and has abandoned all sense of perspective.

8 oooh, calm, I never thought of that. Interesting. Maybe that makes that scene less gratuitous, although I still think it was unnecessary.

7. soupdragon, I really liked the dream/myth interplay and Marina's growth, as well, and I like the way you describe it.

One thing that bothered me was Marina's relationship with Mr. Fox. It just felt odd to me--not very authentic or natural and a little bit creepy. I wonder if Marina will make some changes upon her return.

Maio 25, 2012, 4:26 pm

>10 AnneDC: I think Marina realized her relationship wasn't real with Mr. Fox, at least on his end. I don't think she'll go after Anders, but I do think in the end she might go back to the jungle.

Maio 25, 2012, 4:29 pm

Patchett said in the goodreads interview that she would never sell the movie rights unless it was a director or actor that she herself wanted to do it. She mentioned Meryl Streep as Dr. Swenson, but I see someone more like Glenn Close or Tilda Swinton.

Maio 25, 2012, 4:57 pm

Judi Dench could pull off Dr. Swenson too (with or without the accent). =)

Maio 25, 2012, 5:02 pm


Jul 2, 2012, 10:43 pm

making her seem like an obsessive character who has crossed some lines and has abandoned all sense of perspective.

Seem like? I didn't think there was any question about that. Swenson was so narrisistic - how does this affect me? She twisted Marina's ideas and questions around completely. She liked that Easter did all the stuff for her, but I don't think she truly cared for him. Even getting pregnant, was more about being able to, not that she actually wanted a child. I got no maternal vibe as the reason for her pregnancy.
I couldn't believe she actually lied about Anders death - well, I could. The idea of looking for him would interfere with her research, and that couldn't happen.

The fact about Swenson that surprised me the most was that she had an affair with the original doctor. That seemed odd. And who was the father of her child?

Love the idea that Marina was pregnant - totally makes sense!

7> love the mythological explanation. Very nicely explained. The ability to see those parallels makes me wish I knew more about mythology.

Jul 1, 2013, 8:04 pm

I get to wake up this discussion out of dormancy!

I just finished reading this book and felt quite amazed and thirsty for discussion about some of the truth and controversy stirred up by the various characters, scenes, and ethics presented. My simple human response was that of actual "wonder" upon closing the cover. I found it to be a pretty masterful and emotional journey. A review I read noted Patchett's ability to present elements that don't seem to matter that much, but by the end everything has beautiful relevance and in fact does matter very much. One of my favorite experiences in any movie or book is this and I agree that Patchett did it well.

First, regarding the love scene and its implications, I initially felt disappointed at this somewhat "tainting" of end-of-story good vibes with adultery (interestingly more sad for the Anders end of it than the Marina end, because I agree that her relationship with Mr. Fox seemed strained and a bit cold/doomed for failure) BUT I have to say I also see how my notions of sex and morality play into that response. If I let go of that and allow myself to really envision the intensity of horror turned relief in that moment, it makes all the sense in the world that in that moment it expressed itself through lovemaking. I certainly don't get enough info to decide whether any strings of attachment preceded or were then created from that moment, but some part of me can actually accept and embrace it as a transient and mutual offering of love and comfort, and I can understand why that part of the story need not be mentioned because of the unnecessary rucus it could cause for people bound by judgment and maybe who could not grasp the intensity of the situation. Again, trying not to judge and also acknowledging the possible sucky repercussions of that heat of the moment impulse.

On that note, brilliant point about Marina becoming pregnant as possibly a reason for her lost interest in the bark and how deeply intriguing that makes the world after the last page, left to our imagination. I did not originally catch that. Love it and makes total sense to me.

About Dr. Swenson, I know it seems easy to dislike this lady and map some judgment of heartlessness upon her motives, but I can't help but feel endeared toward characters like this who try to cover up their bigger heart with rigidity and a superiority complex. Toward the end of the novel, I perceived her true heart (whether for greater humanity with the vaccine or for Easter) to be bleeding out everywhere, especially as she became more physically vulnerable. Even though perhaps off in all her strategies to "protect" people at the expense of honesty, I think she was trying to circumvent some bigger forces with less humane motives (aka a big pharmaceutical company) while still utilizing their resources to serve a greater cause. In essence, she had a bitter outer shell but was a rare spirit with the strength to have the patience of years to cultivate more meaningful discoveries. Just my take.

And I just have to note the most fascinating of things for me was Patchett's venture into the world of the Amazon and plant medicine as I am seeing an emerging awareness and validation of its power in our modern culture. So much in the novel is subtley acknowledged about the miraculous healing elements of plants out in nature, especially in the Amazon, and the link or tension between the indigenous approach and Western medicine. People integrated into their land and its ecosystem vs. people searching the world over for miracle cures to ailments and then extracting only the simple chemical compound, with great consequences. The most fascinating thing for me is that I was actually in the Amazon, fully immersed in a healing program that involved plant medicines and ayahuasca ceremonies, when I started reading this. It was a CRAZY and miraculous experience. Almost a year later I just now finish the book and can feel the truth viscerally of the rawness of life in the jungle, the mystery, majesty, and danger. Going through this novel was like a little vacation from the mundane aspects of my life, pumping fresh blood back into that Amazonian experience for me and reminding me of the power of novel to facilitate great inner movement. Like through written works, ones personal mythology can come alive. Well, for that, along with all these other intellectually stimulating points, I am very grateful for this incredible work.

Dez 18, 2013, 1:31 pm

i definitely thought they were implying she was pregnant because they said so implicitly that as soon as you become pregnant, you have no interest in the bark. i loved that it was such a quiet thing that could easily have been missed..

Abr 20, 2021, 11:18 pm

>5 mrstreme: I think they had sex because Marina wanted to get pregnant. All that bark she wanted was so she could be a mother.