Review: Fever

Fever by Mary Beth Keane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, this book is a great read in that it brought me in right away and feels exciting. However, Keane has written a book full of fictionalized dialog and purports to share with us the private thoughts of Mary Mallon. I know it’s written as fiction — I wish there were footnotes or a bibliography or an afterword that would share with the reader which parts we know are made up and which parts came from her research. Probably, I am not being fair here.

This would make a good book group book, not because it is fabulous but because there is lots to talk about. Can someone be guilty of a crime that they do not understand? What responsibility do medical researchers and practitioners have to clearly communicate their findings to the general public? At what price public safety? Why isn’t the law applied uniformly to all sorts of people? Also, why did the author choose to focus here on the bad love affair? Why didn’t she delve more deeply into issues of class, immigration, loneliness, the filth and sadness in which so many people lived in the early 1900s? Why didn’t she explore the prevalence and repercussions of men and women living together unmarried, and give her reader some broader context? Why didn’t she include any details of the medical research that led to Mary’s capture? Or share any of the newspaper articles that were written about Mary at the time?

In the end, three stars because this was very readable. Keane told a good story. It’s just that she told a small, mildly romantic, squalid story of minimal importance where she could have told a big, informative and enduring story. (I am a crank and I was disappointed.)

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