Ann Patchett: State of Wonder

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Ann Patchett State of Wonder
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    State of Wonder
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    Современная проза / на английском языке
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State of Wonder: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. But first she must locate Dr. Anneck Swenson, a renowned gynecologist who has spent years looking at the reproductive habits of a local tribe where women can conceive well into their middle ages and beyond. Eccentric and notoriously tough, Swenson is paid to find the key to this longstanding childbearing ability by the same company for which Dr. Singh works. Yet that isn’t their only connection: both have an overlapping professional past that Dr. Singh has long tried to forget. In finding her former mentor, Dr. Singh must face her own disappointments and regrets, along with the jungle’s unforgiving humidity and insects, making a multi-layered atmospheric novel that is hard to put down. Indeed, Patchett solidifies her well-deserved place as one of today’s master storytellers. Emotional, vivid, and a work of literature that will surely resonate with readers in the weeks and months to come, truly is a thing of beauty and mystery, much like the Amazon jungle itself.

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“Happy Hour,” she said with no particular happiness. “You folks have a good time.”

Marina waited until the woman had walked away and then without preamble she repeated to Mr. Fox the single sentence from Karen’s monologue that had stuck in her head so clearly after all the others began to melt together. “If Vogel has inflated its stock price then that’s Vogel’s problem.”

He looked at her with what might have been called a wan smile except there wasn’t quite enough smile in it. “I can’t ever remember being this tired.”

She nodded her head. She waited. For a long time he waited

with her.

“You know the stock price is up,” he said finally.

“I know it’s up. I guess I don’t know why it’s up or that it has anything to do with Anders.”

Mr. Fox drained his first glass easily and then rested his fingers lightly on the rim of the second. He would be sixty-one in a month but the events of the day had put him safely beyond that. In the dim light of the low-hanging swag lamp with a faux Tiffany shade he could have been seventy. He sat hunched, his shoulders pressing towards one another in the front, and his glasses dug a small red groove into the bridge of his nose. His mouth, which in the past had been generous and kind, now cut across his face in a single straight line. Marina had worked at Vogel for more than six years before they ever came to this restaurant. It was plenty of time to think about Mr. Fox as her employer, her superior. For the last seven months they had made an attempt to redefine their relationship.

“The problem is this,” Mr. Fox said, his voice turned sullen. “For some time now there has been. .” He waited, as if a combination of the cold, the exhaustion, and the scotch had stolen the very word he needed. “There has been a situation in Brazil. It was not a situation that Anders was meant to solve. I didn’t ask him to solve it, but I did think he would bring back enough information so that I would be able to handle it myself. I saw Anders as the person who would set things in motion. He would explain to Dr. Swenson that it was essential that she wrap up her research and move directly, with the help of other scientists, into the developmental phase of the drug. Then he would explain to me, based on what he’d seen, what sort of reasonable timetable we should be able to expect. The fact that Anders died in the middle of all this is a terrible thing, I don’t need to tell you that, but his death”—and here Mr. Fox paused to consider his words and take a quarter inch off the second glass—“his death does not change the problem.”

“And the problem is that this drug which you’ve been saying for a year now is all but sitting on the doorstep of the FDA doesn’t exist? It’s not that Dr. Swenson isn’t bringing it back from Brazil. You’re saying there’s nothing to bring back.” Mr. Fox was too old for her. He was five years younger than her mother, a point her mother would have been the first person to bring up had Marina been inclined to tell her about the relationship.

“I don’t know that. That was the purpose of the trip. We needed more information.”

“So you sent Anders out on some sort of reconnaissance mission? Anders Eckman? How was he qualified for that?”

“He was meant to be our ambassador. He wasn’t hiding anything, there was nothing to hide. His job was to explain to Dr. Swenson the importance of her finishing her portion of the project. Since she’s been down there she’s disconnected herself, from—” Mr. Fox stopped and shook his head. The list was too long. “Everything. I’m not entirely sure she possesses a concept of time.”

“How long ago did you last hear from her?”

“Not counting today’s letter?” He stopped to do the math in his head though Marina suspected he was only stalling. “It’s been twenty-six months.”

“Nothing? In over two years you’ve heard nothing? How is that possible?” What she meant was how was it possible he had let this go so far but that was not how he heard the question.

“She doesn’t seem to feel she’s accountable to the people who have been funding her work. I’ve given her a kind of latitude that any other drug company would have laughed at, and should laugh at. That’s why she agreed to come with us. Her money is deposited monthly into an account in Rio as per our original agreement. I’ve paid to have a research station built and I don’t even know where it is. We sent the whole thing down on a barge, freezers and tin siding, roofs and doors, more generators than you could imagine. We sent everything to set up a fully operating lab and she met the barge in Manaus and got on board and took it down the river herself. None of the workers were ever able to remember where they dropped things off.”

“If Anders found it, it wouldn’t be impossible to find.” Dr. Swenson would never see herself as accountable to Vogel, any more than she would think of herself as working for them. She might develop a drug for the purposes of her own curiosity or the interest of science, but it would never occur to her that her work was the property of the people who signed the checks. Anyone who had spent a thoughtful hour in her presence could have figured that much out. “So pull the plug. Cut the money off and wait until she comes out.”

Mr. Fox, who had been holding the remaining and mostly full glass of scotch an inch off the table, now set it down. The look on his face meant to say that she understood none of it. “The project needs to be completed, not abandoned.”

“Then it won’t be abandoned.” Marina closed her eyes. She wanted to sink into the red wine, to swim in it. “The truth is I don’t want to talk about Dr. Swenson or Vogel or drug development anymore. I know I’m the one who brought it up but I was wrong. Let’s just give the day to Anders.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Mr. Fox said in a tone that was free of concession. “This isn’t the time to talk about it, and tomorrow won’t be either, nor will the day after that. But since the day is rightfully Anders’ I’ll tell you this: in finding Dr. Swenson we not only have the chance to solve Vogel’s problems, but we could resolve some of the questions about Anders’ death as well.”

“What questions?”

“Believe me,” he said, “there will be questions.”

She wondered then if he felt it too, that the blame would come to him eventually. “You’re not going to Brazil,” she said.

“No,” he said.

It was this terrible light that made him look old, the scotch and the heavy weight of the day. She wanted them to leave now, and when they got back to Eden Prairie she would take him home with her. She blamed him for nothing. She leaned across the table of this dark, back booth and took his hand. “The president of the company doesn’t go off to Brazil.”

“There is nothing inherently dangerous about the Amazon. It’s a matter of precautions and good sense.”

“I’m sure you’re right but that doesn’t mean that you should go.”

“I promise you, I’m not going. Annick Swenson wouldn’t listen to me. I realize now she’s never listened to me, not in the meetings, the agreement letters, the contracts. I’ve been writing to her ever since she left — no e-mail, no texting, she does none of that. I sit down and put it all on paper. I’ve been very clear about her obligations and our commitment to the project. There’s been no indication that she reads my letters.”

“So what you need to find is someone she’ll listen to.”

“Exactly. I didn’t think that through when I sent Anders. He was affable and bright, and he seemed to want to go, which counted for a lot. I only thought it needed to be someone from Vogel, someone who wasn’t me.”

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