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This is the second half of an email discussion I held on Ann Patchett’s novel State of Wonder. The first part was posted yesterday. Note that we go into some detail about the book; you may prefer not to read the discussion if you’re not already familiar with State of Wonder.
Alison Bacon: I’d be interested to know how you people think Marina plans to move on after delivering Anders home. First time of reading I assumed she would go back to the jungle – second time I was less sure. Pregnancy by Anders is an obvious possibility. Can we assume her relationship with Jim Fox at an end? Just interested to see if an ‘open’ ending has produced the same or different responses, or are we to look no farther than Marina’s ‘mission accomplished’?
David Hebblethwaite: I got a strong sense of finality from the ending, with Marina back on her home turf, and Anders reunited with his family. The tone of the prose definitely suggested to me that she was drawing a line under it and moving on.
Maureen Kincaid Speller: I think the key is ‘home turf’; there is a line on p.50 in my paperback, where Marina, with reference to Minnesota, is described as having the ‘finely honed sense of a native’ when it comes to judging the weather, not surprisingly, having lived there all her life. But set that against her desire as a child, on p.35, ‘longing [for] an entre country where, that place where no one would turn around and look at her unless it was to admire her good posture’, by comparison with Minnesota, where no one believes she’s from around there (or else think she’s Native American; I’m tickled that the gas station attendant would go so far as to ask ‘Lakota?’). And also the convincing herself that ‘she practically was from Indian’. The unspoken irony of course is that her paleness would be much admired by Indians, many of whom persist in seeing pale skin as preferable to dark skn (colonial influence, subsequent heavy marketing of skin whitening products) but would also mark her out as from not there. I’m not sure Patchett digs at that as well as she might.
Anyway, there is a clear sense that Marina is trying to find a place for herself, but having sampled various kinds of Indianness and indigeneity, I think the ending obliges her to recognise that she is a Minnesotan first. (And actually, I can’t help thinking, given her extraordinary reticence throughout, she is a living embodiment of Minnesota Nice).