My dislike for doctors extends into literature, evidently.
19 December 2011
I hated Ann Patchett's novel State of Wonder so much it was actually enjoyable.
It's been a long time since I felt strongly enough about a book to hate it. So why, you ask, did I finish it? Well, I don't think I realized how much I disliked it until I was pretty far along in it, and then I needed closure.
The novel is about a pharmacological researcher, Marina Singh, who is sent into the Brazilian rainforest to try and find a renegade doctor-researcher (Annick Swenson) who is funded by the company Singh works for. She also just happens to be the woman under whom Dr. Singh first trained when she planned on working in gynecology and obstetrics, until she got a surgical procedure wrong and changed her career. She doesn't really want to go and see about the status of the fertility drug that Dr. Swenson is supposedly working on, but she can't really say no in light of the fact that her co-worker, another doctor employed by the company, has been reported dead by Dr. Swenson. (He had been the first one to be sent to check on her progress with the drug research.)
So Dr. Singh trots off to the jungle and for seemingly a hundred pages or so not much happens, as it is hard to find the Dr. in her secluded locale, and she's got a couple of gatekeepers working for her and working deliberately to make her even harder to find.
God. I'm bored even typing the description. And I don't want to give too much away in case you still want to read it (since most critics have hailed it as a masterpiece). Suffice it to say Malina finds the doctor, discovers how the fertility drug research is really going, and then, in the space of about 5 pages at the end, most of the major actual action of the novel occurs. Why Patchett thought a pace of 300 slow boring pages to 5 hurried ones that felt tacked on to finish the book would be the right pace, I don't know. (Although, again, most of the critics didn't seem to mind.)
So what was there to hate in this book? Well, not one of the characters was even remotely likable. Marina was completely dullsville, the doctor who'd been reported dead just doesn't make that many appearances, the gatekeepers are a completely narcissistic and pointless young couple, and Dr. Annick Swenson was a composite of every obnoxious, supposedly knowledge-driven and yet completely incurious doctor I've ever visited in my life.* At one point a big reveal is made of the realization that women beyond middle age may not want to become pregnant (even if fertility drugs could make it a possibility) because hey, get this, being pregnant is hard work. Well, cripes, doctors, you don't need to go to Brazil to find that out. ASK ANY PREGNANT WOMAN if she thinks somebody in their sixties or seventies could handle it. I think you'll get your answer pretty quickly, without having to run any experiments.
So: unlikable characters: And: glacial pace, followed by unsatisfactory resolution. Third: the realization that this is probably some sort of play on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, but I've never read that classic and probably wouldn't get the parallels even if I had.
Huh. It felt good to say all that. It's a book I loved to hate, I'll give it that.
*I am aware I bring some "doctor issues" to my reading of this book. I recognize I need them but I have not personally liked very many of the doctors I've ever seen.