Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Defining Psychopathy

Last night I finished reading State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, and this morning I woke up wondering what the definition of a sociopath is.  Coincidence?  I think not.  However, I learned, thanks to Merriam Webster, that the word I should have been thinking of is "psychopath".  A psychopath is defined as someone afflicted by "a mental disorder especially when marked by egocentric and antisocial behavior."  A sociopath is just a person who is asocial or anti-social.  Clearly, Dr. Swenson in State of Wonder is something beyond that.

State of Wonder is the story of a doctor, Marina, whose co-worker, Anders, dies in the Amazon while trying to get more information about Dr. Swenson.  Dr. Swenson, Marina, and Anders all work for the same company, Vogel, which is funding Dr. Swenson's research.  Dr. Swenson has found a tribe in the Amazon where the women are able to continue to have children into their 70s, and she is studying their diets and environments in the hope of developing a fertility drug.  However, she is so secretive about her research that no one at Vogel knows how to reach her.  Anders, an avid bird watcher, volunteers to go down and find the reclusive researcher.  A couple of months later, a letter from Dr. Swenson informs Vogel that Anders has died.  Anders' wife and Vogel both want more information, for very different reasons, and as a result, Marina is sent to find out what happened, and how the research is progressing.

The other books that I have read by Patchett, Run and Bel Canto, have both centered on the relationships created by people who are brought together by an unexpected act of violence.  Those characters, who have every reason not to like each other, learn to trust and love.  State of Wonder starts on the opposite end of the relationship spectrum, with characters who think that they know each other, and believe that they are working toward a common goal, only to realize that they have all been manipulated by a psychopath.

State of Wonder is Patchett's best book so far.  I read it for The Friends Book Group, and there will be a lot to talk about.  Most obviously, the question of whether women who are over a certain age should have children is a topic that any group of women could debate, and Patchett supplies ammunition on both sides of the argument.  The characters are well developed, and Patchett's description of the means by which the members of the tribe are able to maintain their fertility is so clear that it almost seems possible.  The lines of medical ethics are blurred until there are none. 

One book down for the Support your Library Challenge.  23 more to go.

Next up:  This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman.  This is my pick for The Typical Book Group, and I can't wait to read it.

Still listening to:  Empire Falls by Richard Russo.  This is a long one, but a good one.  More on this soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...