Fever

Mary B Keane, Author
Mary Beth Keane. Scribner, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4516-9341-6
Reviewed on: 01/14/2013
Release date: 03/12/2013
Paperback - 306 pages - 978-1-4516-9342-3
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-1-4711-1297-3
Hardcover - 386 pages - 978-1-4711-1296-6
Ebook - 400 pages - 978-1-4711-1299-7
Hardcover - 551 pages - 978-1-4104-5872-8
Hardcover - 386 pages - 978-1-4711-1298-0
Book - 978-1-4423-6088-4
Hardcover - 464 pages - 978-1-4712-3612-9
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Keane (The Walking People) rescues Typhoid Mary from her “cautionary tale” status by telling her true story. Apprehended by the New York Department of Health in 1907, following the deaths of the family for whom she cooks, Mary Mallon is turned into a guinea pig on an East River island with little to comfort her aside from rare letters from her lover Alfred. Slowly she builds a case to win her freedom and returns to a changed New York of Chinese laundries, tenement fires, and Alfred, now-destitute. Dogged by her reputation as a tainted woman, Mary defies the virus she carries by doing what she does best, even as her nemesis—the “medical sleuth” Dr. Soper (the novel’s most engaging figure)—hounds her from kitchen to kitchen. There’s a tremendous amount of retrospection and research circling the myth, but Keane, by staying so close to Mary, occasionally loses sight of what might have been a more lucrative subject: the birth of the health scare. Typhoid is frequently treated as though it’s little more than a metaphor for difference or estrangement, and we don’t entirely understand why Mary never seems to grasp the consequences of her actions. Still, as historical fiction, Fever seldom disappoints in capturing the squalid new world where love exists in a battlefield both biological and epochal. Agent: Chris Calhoun, the Chris Calhoun Agency. (Mar.)
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