Published by Scribner ISBN 9781451693416
Hardcover, $26, 320 pages
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.
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