State of WonderFirst up, we’re talking STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett.

Caveat: We’re going to spar, bitterly, over the end of the State of Wonder—which means we’re going to reveal the grand finale completely. So, if you’ve already read it or if you’re someone who likes spoiled things, you may continue. If that’s not you, catch us the next time with Molly Ringwald.

Jennifer: Okay, so there’s this big pharmaceutical company in Minnesota and Dr. Annick Swenson is their employee doing research in the Amazon. Apparently, she’s discovered this unbelievable fertility miracle. Two crazy problems: First, she’s gone all Kurtzian on them, and she never communicates with anyone. She’s, like, disappeared into the heart o’ darkness, and the drug company wants their medical miracle now! Second, the last pharmacy guy they sent out to find Swenson ended up dead. So Dr. Marina Singh, another one, heads out. Here’s my State of Wonder review.

Get ready for the spoiler: It turns out the guy isn’t dead. A lot of fabulous things happen. But something not-so-fabulous happens too: Marina, our heroine, and the missing dead guy who is actually alive (Anders) have sex. Then they fly back to the States. To his wife.

I haven’t been this incensed since the end of “Lost.” The book was nearly fabulous and then she blew it at the end with the sex. She blew it.

Lara: Whoa, whoa. WHOA. She does not blow it. You are making it sound like it was paltry and dirty (although both of them had been without a real bath for months), and like a one-night stand and it wasn’t. Anders was lost and essentially kidnapped by this native tribe, and was probably resigned to the fact that his life was over. Here comes Marina, who has also been consumed by the Amazonian culture and is essentially out of touch with what it meant to be “her,” and she finds Anders. Someone like her. Someone who speaks and eats and drinks like her. Their sexual act was more about connection, a sort of communion. They were alive and they needed to feel that. They needed to connect with each other. It was like a return to humanity before actually returning to humanity. And here’s my review of State of Wonder.

Jennifer: Nice try, but sex is sex. Infidelity is infidelity. Anders was headed home to Karen, the longsuffering wife who always believed her husband was still alive. Do you mean to tell me that he couldn’t wait for the “connection” for one or two more days? Before I go off on the misinterpretation of human sexuality, however, allow me to say that this wondrous Patchett—who I greatly admire—expertly strung us all along, only to undercut or sabotage her own happy ending.

Lara: I’m glad she didn’t go for everything tied up in a pretty bow at the end. Life is complicated and painful and full of good people who make bad choices—and they are still good people. I loved the ending. It felt real and right, even though the decisions they made were wrong. Of course they were wrong. Kind of like your opinion on this matter. I value it, but it’s wrong. The book is flawless.

Jennifer: So the book is flawless, but the characters are flawed? (I’m just trying to make sense of your bombastic outcry.)

Lara: Exactly. Just like real life. Flawlessly flawed. Perfectly imperfect.

Jennifer: I’m all for flawed. I’m all for complex characters with moral shortcomings. What I don’t like is how this particular moral failure—you’d agree that it’s a moral failure?—is not discussed in such terms. The pretty bow you don’t want at the end is there. Patchett presents it all as a-okay, as if they (Marina and Anders) can just go on without any consequence. He goes back to his wife and kids. They never mention the sex in the jungle. Really? I ask you, Lara, is sex ever something so inconsequential?

Lara: I think it can mean everything and yes, unfortunately, sometimes nothing. It can be all emotional and spiritual or just a physical act. Does that make it right or wrong? I don’t know. I believe that Patchett felt it meant something: that Anders and Marina were found—they were alive. And I am certain there will be repercussions; but the story can’t go on forever. What is Patchett supposed to do? Take us to Anders going home, Karen elated with his return and then destroyed when she learns of his transgression? Does Patchett end it there? Or wait, how about this… Marina realizes her true feelings for Anders and is unable to go on without him and so she attempts a relationship with him or kills herself over the idea of ruining a marriage? Does Patchett end it there? Where does it end?

Jennifer: Where an author ends is, of course, the BIG question. And, for me, the end really is everything. I like closure; I like redemptive ends (by that, I do not mean happy or religious ends; rather, I mean that I like meaningful ends that resolve things—resolution). It has to make sense. You know, I’ll bring up another choice Patchett made in this book. In order to secure Anders’ freedom from a tribe of possible-cannibalists, Marina “trades” Easter for Anders. Easter is the boy she was going to adopt and take back to the States with her! We’re devastated. I was devastated. I didn’t want for that to happen. I wished it weren’t so. But I get it. I see why Patchett did it. Even though I didn’t like it, it made sense. The sex didn’t make sense. How should she have ended it? I don’t know. I would’ve been okay with her ending it with that devastating “trade,” Easter for Anders. I would’ve been okay with that.

Lara: Oh, God, Easter! Yes, I was very upset about that. I agree with you on that. I think his trade and how quickly Marina recovered from it was my only beef with the book. I wanted more pain from that loss. I felt it so deeply and Marina felt it so quickly. Too quickly, I think. But let’s get back to the sex, because, really that’s why anyone out there has read this far, right?

The sex IS the closure. It closes the chapter on that fascinatingly bizarre journey that Marina and Anders just endured. The sex is what bridges the gap between the crazy Amazon world and wide expanse of Eden Prairie. I think Patchett is one of the only writers who could have pulled off an ending like this. Her writing is exquisite. I mean, I dream of being able to write like her. I really have an affinity for her writing. But I get that this specific act is going to bother a lot of people. More than just you, I am certain.

Jennifer: Funny, you should say that. Whenever I have sex, I like to think of it just like that—as some kind of bridge between the Amazon and Eden Prairie, crazy meets heavenly (I did not just write that). Hi, mom!

Well, okay, I cannot concede on the sex thing. But I’ll give you this: Patchett’s writing is exquisite. I find myself stuck in a quagmire of my own making. I hate her ending. I love her writing. Since the end is so important to me, will I write off the whole book? I mean, it was a long journey. It was a great journey. I loved reading this book.

Alas, like “Lost,” I think it’s worthy of attention, a lesson to be learned: here’s the potential of the narrative, here are the possibilities of the story, and here are its failures. Here are its failures.

Oh, Ann! Don’t hate me!

Lara: Fair. And I don’t think you need to worry about Ann hating you. Me? Now, that’s another matter.