Ann Patchett’s ‘State of Wonder’ Certain to Leave You Wondering

Cover ImageWe’ve come to expect big things from bestselling author Ann Patchett. As winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for her international beauty Bel Canto back in 2002, Patchett unwittingly raised her literary bar and cleared the way for a large and loyal fan base.

Highlighted by the success of Bel Canto, Patchett has amassed a reliable readership and now publishes to eager, outstretched hands. With five praised novels to her name and one currently situated on several prominent reading lists, Patchett has been slow to disappoint. In her latest novel State of Wonder, however, Patchett just might find devotees a touch disenchanted.

Patchett’s State of Wonder boldly tackles the snarled, cacophonous wilds of the Amazonian jungle. Yet for all of the novel’s shimmering flora, pulsating hues, masticating insects, shrieking monkeys and tribal ululations, why are we left hearing only crickets?

State of Wonder starts out strong despite its floppy premise. The introduction of key characters and plot lines instantly hook and anticipation builds at the first hint of scandal. Like the exhilarating, paced ascent of a roller coaster readying for the ride, readers sense big thrills to come. Alas, as the setting switches from the midwest to Brazil, State of Wonder peters out at the perch and clambers down into a disjointed tale of outlandish proportion.

“It’s not that I don’t have any idea; it’s that I sometimes have too many ideas,” shared Patchett in a recent Tin House interview, and this is no doubt the troubling case in State of Wonder. Bioethics, biracialism, corporate greed and cultural integrity are but a few of the many story threads that still remain slack at the conclusion of Patchett’s work.

Despite the medicinal treasures that potentially abound in the Amazonian underbrush, Patchett overplays the topic in State of Wonder and takes it a bit too far. “Science came in for the first time with Run,” Patchett tells Tin House, “and then it just kind of blew up into something a lot bigger in State of Wonder… .”

Well put. An author can only take their audience so far before they run the risk of losing them in their own imaginative flight. By the time Patchett has Marina eating bark off the trees and the Lakashi tribe swabbing their private parts for the sake of modern science, it’s fairly safe to say that Patchett has left her readers staring into space.

That said, Patchett does have a gift for beautiful prose and her depth of character and relationship are at times palpable. In addition, the lush, layered descriptions of the Amazon and its foreboding tributaries are striking. In all fairness, State of Wonder offers significant literary style if not grace.

It’s possible that I might be in my own camp on this one, though it wouldn’t be the first time. State of Wonder  was just released on June 7th and is steadily climbing the charts and garnering written raves. Not only does State of Wonder grace the current cover of BookPage, but it’s also a June 2011 Indie Next List selection and was recently featured on The Diane Rehm Show. If you’ve read State of Wonder, NLR would love to know what you think.

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– Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

New York Times book review

Ellen Airgood’s ‘South of Superior’ Seduces With Rustic Charm

Cover ImageEllen Airgood is an unlikely author. Clocking outrageous hours as a waitress and baker at the small diner she owns with her husband in Grand Marais, Michigan, it’s a wonder she has a second to write up anything other than a customer’s tab.

Airgood, however, is clearly as resourceful as the colorful characters who appear in her lyrical new novel South of Superior (Riverhead).  Released just last week, South of Superior is shaping up to be that perfect summer read. While its charms hold particular appeal for those who reside in Michigan, Airgood’s debut will easily translate to any reader looking for a wise, warm tale of love, life and friendship.

“Celebrating community and a hardscrabble way of life, South of Superior brilliantly captures what it’s like to live in a place that’s remote and lonely, yet enlivening and vital…” states Riverhead. “Filled with people who take great joy in the simple things and who recognize the deep reward in caring for others, it’s the kind of place – and story – that grabs hold of the soul and doesn’t let go.”

Airgood resides in Grand Marais, which sits on the Lake Superior shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and provides the setting for South of Superior. Known as the “Yoop” from those south of the Mackinac Bridge, the UP is nothing short of majestic and remains somewhat of a mystery for those who reside outside of its breathtaking borders. In South of Superior, Airgood grants a glimpse into the rustic lives of those who have called the peninsula home for generations and captivates with its rugged beauty.

Airgood will be appearing at several northern Michigan bookstores for signings of South of Superior over the summer. You can link to Airgood’s appearances here but as always, call venues before heading out the door.

* Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Indie Booksellers a Must for Lit Lovers Heading to Northern Michigan

With school winding down and the impending relief of slackening schedules upon us, many locals will be heading up north to take in their bright summer days on Michigan’s beautiful shores. Whether it’s a few days, a few weeks, or the break in its entirety, tightroutines will quickly unravel letting loose, wanton hours for pleasure reading.

While big chain book retailers continue to shimmy, Michigan boasts a solid slew of fabulous independent bookstores throughout the state. An indie worth its salt is staffed with a knowledgable crew that not only loves to shoot the breeze about books, but can often provide you with the perfect pick regardless of your literary appetite.

If you’re headed Up North and are looking for a good read, an independent bookseller is a great way to go. Not only will you be falling into unique establishments that house both fringe and mainstream literary works, but also adding much needed fuel to Michigan’s economy and the book industry at large.

While I can’t possibly cover all the indies in northern Michigan, here are a few of my personal favorites. Keep in mind that author events, book signings, and related discussions often go hand with individual bookstores. Also, most progressive booksellers roll with the techno tide and provide related links on their homepage and can be followed on facebook and Twitter.

Independent Booksellers due North

If you’re headed to Petoskey, stop in at McLean and Eakin.

If you’re headed to Gaylord, stop in at Saturn Booksellers.

If you’re headed to Traverse City, stop in at  Horizon Books.

If you’re headed to Glen Arbor, stop in at Cottage Books.

If you’re headed to Northport, stop in at Dog Ears Books.

If you’re headed to Suttons Bay, stop in at Brilliant  Books (now in Traverse City too).

If you know of other bookstores, please feel free to add them in Comments!

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Tea Obreht Wins 2011 Orange Prize for ‘The Tiger’s Wife’

Cover ImageTea Obreht, author of The Tiger’s Wife, can now add Orange Prize winner to her ever-blossoming resume. Obreht bested contenders Emma Donoghue (Room), Aminatta Forna (The Memory of Love), Emma Henderson (Grace Williams Says it Loud), Nicole Krauss (Great House), and Kathleen Winter (Annabel) for this year’s prestigious UK award.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Orange Prize, it’s the UK’s annual book award for fiction written by a woman. The award can be presented to a female author of any nationality for the best eligible full-length novel written in the English language.

At just 25, Obreht is the youngest author thus far to win the Orange Prize for Fiction. Not only will she take home an awarded “Bessie” sculpture, but also a monetary prize of about $49,000.00. Not bad at all for a debut novel.

Chair of Judges Bettany Hughes said:  “The Tiger’s Wife is an exceptional book and Tea Obreht is a truly exciting new talent. Obreht’s powers of observation and her understanding of the world are remarkable. By skillfully spinning a series of magical tales she has managed to bring the tragedy of chronic Balkan conflict thumping into our front rooms with a bittersweet vivacity.”

Tea Obreht was born in 1985 in the former Yugoslavia, and spent her childhood in Cyprus and Egypt before eventually immigrating to the United States in 1997 (via). Her writing has been published in The New Yorker and was highlighted in the highly regarded 20 Under 40 issue. Obreht has also appeared in major publications such as The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New York Times, and The Guardian and was included in the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Rosamund Lupton’s Eerie ‘Sister’ Makes Her Way to the States

Cover ImageIf pacing is the literary equivalent of peeking through fingers at the movies, get ready to make serious tracks with Rosamund Lupton’s hypnotic thriller, Sister. Even if you don’t consider yourself a reader of the mystery genre, Lupton’s edgy novel is an absolute stunner with hooks on all fronts for any literary appetite.

It’s not surprising that author Lupton, who studied English Literature at Cambridge University, was a script-writer for film and television as well. Sister confidently holds elements of Lupton’s former experience, and steadily unspools in eerie sequences of shadow-flecked shots and fractured plays of light. While Lupton’s slick yet elegant prose kicks up the backbeat of anticipation, it also deftly feeds the very humanistic plot that thrums at the heart of Sister.

“With ‘Sister,’ Lupton… enters the highly charged ring where the best psychological detective writers spar, her hands raised in a victory clench,” Liesl Schillinger raves in her NYT review (spoilers). “She encircles her story with electrified ropes: new developments continually jolt her readers, which doesn’t stop them from eagerly – and a little sadistically – awaiting the impact of the next blow… . Lupton builds suspense not only around the causes and details of her story’s brutal denouement, but also around the personalities and motivations of those who lunge and duck.”

Piatkus published Lupton’s Sister (as a paperback) to high acclaim in the UK last September and Crown Publishing Group subsequently snagged the rights to the first US edition. Crown rightfully expects Lupton’s novel Sister to be a hot seller and will release it in hardcover this Tuesday, June 7th.

Publicity is ramping up on other fronts as well. Rosamund Lupton was recently interviewed on NPR’s  The Diane Rehm Show, where she discussed her novel and it’s recent release in the United States. In addition, Sister was chosen as an Indie Next pick for June and selected by The Oprah Magazine as a July ‘Reading Room’ selection.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer


– Rosamund Lupton’s second book Afterwards will be released in the UK by Piatkus on  June 9th, 2011.

Author Jerry Dennis Shares his Passion for the Great Lakes at Michigan Writers’ Conference

Cover Image“Write what you know” is the sage advice for any writer, and clearly Michigan author Jerry Dennis believes in such wise counsel. What Dennis “knows” settled in his heart as a young boy in Grand Traverse County who believed that Lake Michigan was where the world began.

The places of our upbringing bear great influence on our lives, and Jerry Dennis has made the very ebb and flow of the Great Lakes define his life’s direction. Well known for his literary works on nature, science, outdoor sports, Michigan waters, and this entire Bountiful World, Dennis has become a respected philosopher in his own right.

In this wonderful podcast Dennis discusses his book, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas. You can hear the easy rhythms of nature in the cadenced voice of Dennis when fielding questions about his work and his writing process. When asked to briefly comment on the Great Lakes, the author doesn’t rattle back to the old elementary acronym for reference but stuns instead with this heartfelt response.

“The Lakes are like five willful sisters. Each one very different but yet very alike as sisters always are. Lake Superior is the oldest and the orneriest, but also the most beautiful one, the heartbreakingly beautiful one. And Lake Michigan is the sort of tempestuous but also responsible one and Lake Huron is not as responsible and she’s a little colder; she’s got more rocks around her shore and maybe a little more analytical and independent and goes her own way. Lake Erie is a younger one who’s unpredictable and you never quite know where she’s headed, and Lake Ontario is the quiet, younger one who everyone is so curious about because she’s so mysterious.”

Few could provide an off-the-cuff answer quite as eloquently as Dennis, but many are willing to try. As this year’s Bear River Writers’ Conference gears up for its annual gathering at Camp Michigania, Dennis will be on hand to expound upon the topics he so clearly loves and assist others in writing “about this place that is unique in the world.”

Dennis, who lives in Traverse City, will head to Walloon Lake for the Conference that kicks off June 2nd and runs through Monday. “I’ve been on the faculty of Bear River since the inaugural year and most years it is the only teaching I do,” shared Dennis in a recent email. “I have taught at a few other conferences in the past but none have equalled this one for its great people, positive energy, and beautiful setting… I’m proud to be associated with it.”

Unfortunately it’s a touch too late to sign up for the this year’s Bear River Writers’ Conference, which apparently fills up months ahead of time, year after year. The upside is that Jerry Dennis has a new book due out this September. The University of Michigan Press will be publishing Dennis’ forthcoming work, The Windward Shore, which is a meditation on winter on the Great Lakes.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer