Saturday, March 2, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Fever by Mary Beth Keane

Fever by Mary Beth Keane
Published by Scribner ISBN 9781451693416
Hardcover, $26, 320 pages
March is Women's History Month and St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17th, so this Weekend Cooking post combines the two with a review of Mary Beth Keane's novel Fever, a fictional story about the infamous Typhoid Mary, an Irish immigrant who was blamed for the deaths of over twenty people from typhoid in New York City in the early years of the twentieth century.

Keane did a great deal of research on Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant who became a cook for wealthy families in New York City. Her website contains an amazing time line of events with photos and information about the real Mary Mallon. It can found here.

Mary is an intriguing woman; she lives with, but does not marry, Alfred Briehof, a German immigrant with a drinking problem. Mary and Alfred love each other deeply, but Alfred's drinking and inability to hold a job creates friction in their relationship.

When several members of a family whom Mary cooks for die from typhoid fever, Dr. George Soper investigates and is determined to find Mary, whom he believes may be a carrier of the disease even though she exhibits no symptoms of typhoid herself. He finds Mary working for another family, and she is detained in an exciting passage of the novel.

Mary ends up quarantined on North Brother Island, where she is forced to live alone, even though she herself is not ill. The isolation wears greatly on her, and she despises Dr. Soper. Her only friend is a male gardener who brings her meals and newspapers, and has a bit of a crush on her.

But Mary misses her old life, and especially Alfred. She wonders how he is doing, who is caring for him and if she will ever be able to leave the island. She finds a lawyer willing to represent her and he works to get Mary released, all while Mary becomes tabloid headlines.

This is a fascinating novel, mostly because Mary is a remarkable character. She is tough, imposing and independent and her unconventional life with Alfred and her manner made her suspect in many people's eyes.
"If she had been the type of woman who saved her money, or gave it to someone who needed it more, a neighbor with children, perhaps, or the church, if she'd been a married woman who handed every dollar over to her husband, or better yet a married woman who didn't have earnings because she was taken up with the care of her own home, she'd never be in the situation she was in. She couldn't prove it, but it was the truth nonetheless."
The best historical fiction immerses the reader into a different place and time, and Fever does just that. You can see, smell, hear and taste New York City at the turn of the century. You get such a feel for  immigrant life, and if you enjoy food, the descriptions of Mary's cooking will indulge your senses.
"Back in her own silent kitchen, she cleared off the cluttered table and used it to prep. She filled the pot with water. She rubbed the small pork tenderloin she'd purchased half-price with plenty of salt and pepper, a bit of nutmeg she grated, a pinch of cinnamon, a dash of sugar, a teaspoon's worth of onion powder she measured with cupped hand."
Mary Mallon's story is so compelling and Keane tells it beautifully. It's the perfect novel to kick off Women's History Month.

rating 5 of 5

My review of Mary Beth Keane's The Walking People.


This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.



19 comments:

  1. This sounds absolutely fascinating. I've read a couple of books about Mary, but this one looks like a winner.

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  2. I have never heard of Typhoid Mary before but sounds like a fascinating book and I agree that the best historical fiction stories are those that actually transport you so you can hear and taste the past.

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    1. I only knew a little about Typhoid Mary before this book, but Keane did so much research, I loved her slideshow on her website.

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  3. As I am Irish born and a lover of NYC I am adding this book to my TBR list!!
    I'm your latest follower!

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  4. You've introduced me to a new character that I now want to know more about. I too like reading about historical times. The food descriptions will be a bonus.

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    1. I really found this book so interesting, I hope you get to read it.

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  5. Sounds like a cracker of a read. In just under a week the March edition of Books You Loved on Carole's Chatter goes live - this would be great for it. Cheers

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  6. I generally don't care for historical fiction, but this book sounds fantastic to me!

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  7. I love historical fiction and this one sounds very interesting. Thanks for starting off Women's History Month with a great review.

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  8. This sounds absolutely fascinating... adding to my wish list now!

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  9. wow, that does does very interesting!

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  10. Wow, thanks for the great review. I'm intrigued and this novel sounds fascinating and well written.

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  11. I have heard of Typhoid Mary, but don't know much about her life. Sounds like she was an interesting woman.

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  12. This sounds super interesting. Like others, I've heard the Typhoid Mary expression and its etymology, but I know noting about the actual woman.

    Rose City Reader

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  13. This sounds like a fascinating book. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  14. What an intriguing story! Putting it on my GR wishlist :)

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