State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Patchett wrote one of my favorite novels of all time - Bel Canto. That story was rich with plot and character development. I cared about everyone in that room, including the rebels holding everyone hostage. Perhaps my expectations were too high for this novel. The writing was beautiful, which is expected from a gifted writer like Patchett. The descriptions of the Amazon made me feel every invading insect and threatening snake, rainstorm, and cannibal native. The problem was I kept asking myself why I was there.
It hurt me to give her two stars, because I loved her previous work so much. In my opinion, every great story has wonderful characters, an engaging plot line, and a wonderful setting. The setting was great and well described, as stated above. The characters were flat and uninteresting and the plot line meandered back and forth without clear direction and never really making me care about what happened. The plot line was difficult to decipher.
There is a relationship between the heroine and her boss at the beginning and then she leaves for the Amazon and only checks back in with him periodically so nothing ever develops. They receive news that the last scientist who went to the Amazon died and she was his friend and the wife asks her to go find out what happened. However, that mysterious death only bubbles to the surface in afterthoughts to remind you that "oh yeah, we still don't know what happened to that guy." The heroine's other goal is to get information from the elusive doctor Swenson heading the drug project but refusing to report on results. Doctor Swenson seemed merely an irritating ideologue instead of a real threat to anything or anybody. In short, there was little reason to care or feel any real tension beyond the normal dangers of just being in the Amazon.
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