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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eat, Drink & Be Literary: Ann Patchett

Photo of Ann Patchett by Melissa Ann Pinney
If there’s one criticism of Ann Patchett’s latest novel, State of Wonder, it’s that the title doesn’t do justice to the book’s intriguing plot twists or its inexorable, seductive rhythms, luring you along morsel by morsel.

State of Wonder begins in Minneapolis where the protagonist, Marina, works for a pharmaceutical company. From this relatively bland, clinical setting, things branch out, up, down, and definitely sideways as she is dispatched reluctantly to Brazil to attempt to both check up on one of the company’s awol rockstar researchers presumably hot on the trail of a drug that would revolutionize human reproduction, and to recover the possessions of a lost office mate who was, dismayingly, sent for the very same reason.

Patchett’s storytelling is so skillful that numerous themes and plot threads are braided together by the novel’s end. Marina is a bit like a contemporary Dorothy, plucked from her home and spun helplessly into a dizzying, transformative Oz. Marina’s past history, along with a variety of clashing cultures, real and adoptive familial ties, the ethics of tampering with nature, the Faustian bargain of extending female fertility, and the sundry and unexpected sources of love all surface and resurface. Apart from the satisfying intellectual calisthenics elicited by State of Wonder, on a purely experiential level, Patchett’s prose paints both urban and wild settings so vividly that you can practically smell and hear them.

In her novel The Patron Saint of Liars, Patchett delineates a mise en scène that's far more contained—a home for unwed, pregnant mothers. The biological concept of family rubs against the conceptual definition, and acts of grace contrast with the unspeakable. Patchett won a Pen/Faulkner Award for her gripping book Bel Canto, a cultural thriller (if there is such a thing) and has penned six novels total. In addition to her writing, she opened Parnassus Books in her hometown of Nashville, TN with publishing veteran Karen Hayes in the absence of an independent bookstore. Catch this accomplished, best-selling author and entrepreneur in person Thursday.

Patchett will read from and discuss her work at Eat, Drink & Be Literary on May 31st in BAMcafé, co-presented by the National Book Foundation.

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