Welcome to the final Read With Us book discussion for Fever!
Please join the discussion by leaving a comment here on the blog. I'll be responding to your comments directly IN the comments, so please do check back once in a while to see how the discussion is going this week. Please feel free to respond to other commenters as well.
As Carole and Bonny have already explained, this time around we've got an added bonus to participating in the book discussion. We have put together a “book lovers' surprise package” to be given to one lucky Fever reader! Just leave a comment on any of our book discussion blog posts. Your name will be placed in a hat EACH time you make a comment — so the more you share, express your opinions, and comment, the more chances you have to win the prize. The winner will be revealed as part of our wrap-up post on February 25!
Now. On with our discussion!
It's kind of interesting to host the final discussion. I'm already privy to many of your thoughts and insights about the book, based on your comments in our earlier discussions hosted by Carole and Bonny. I know, for example, that many of you felt that the book would have been stronger with more attention paid to Dr. Soper, and with perhaps more focus on the factors that led to the link between Mary Mallon and her identification as an asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid Fever. I also know that while most of us agree that it's critical to protect public health, we also feel that Mary Mallon was treated unfairly because she was a poor immigrant -- and a woman, to boot.
What else can I even ask . . . in this 3rd and final discussion?
First, let's talk about Alfred, shall we?
The character of Mary's long-time partner, Alfred Briehof - a German immigrant with addiction problems, a spotty work ethic, and commitment issues - was not based on an actual person in Mary's life (according to the available historical records and details). While it is nice to think that Mary had a "special someone" to share her life with, it seems to me that the author gave the character Alfred a lot of "space" in the story (even allowing him his own "point of view" for a few rather confusing chapters there in the middle of the book).
What did you think of Alfred? Did the relationship between Mary and Alfred help you understand Mary's life choices better? Did their life together ring true in this particular historical setting and context? Did you think Mary's behavior toward Alfred was consistent with the rest of her character? What do you think of the author's choice to focus attention so heavily on Alfred?
Next, let's talk about Fever as a work of historical fiction.
The book is classified as historical fiction. It is factually based on a real-life, historical person (Mary Mallon) and features many key events in her history. It is also fictional -- bringing the past to life for readers by embellishing Mary's life with fabricated details. Many people in the story were historical figures: Dr. Soper, the Warren family of Oyster Bay, Dr. Biggs, Josephine Baker, and Ernst Lederle, for example. And the book tied in some real-life events to help cement the setting and timeline: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and the sinking of the Titanic, for example. Yet the majority of characters, situations, and conversations are fictional.
How do you think this worked in Fever? Did you notice any things in the book that seemed out of place or time, given the historical setting? Did the characters speak and act like people would have done in that period of time/in that situation? Did the book feel authentic to you? Why or why not?
And, finally, let's talk about Mary herself.
Many of us, in our comments in the earlier discussions, mentioned that we didn't feel that we really got to know Mary Mallon. She seemed enigmatic to us -- sometimes independent, confident, and stubborn, but other times . . . well, not so much . . . taking on work that would get her in trouble, for example, just so she could feed her boyfriend's addiction.
Do you think this was the author's intent -- to keep us at arm's length from Mary? Are there things the author might have done differently to draw us closer to Mary? Were you surprised at how Mary reacted/responded to Alfred's drug addiction given how she handled other situations in her life? Do you think you may have enjoyed the book more if you could understand (and maybe even cheer for) Mary?
Would you recommend this book to others?
Be sure to join us next Tuesday over at Bonny's . . . as we wrap up this go 'round of Read With Us and announce the winner of our "book lovers' surprise package!"