Fever by May Beth Keane
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 2013
Source: e-galley provided by publisher through NetGalley
The Short Version:
Mary Mallon, better known as Typhoid Mary is the subject of this fictional biography.
Why I Read It:
The setting of early 1900’s New York City is one of my favorites and I was curious after hearing some positive reviews of this one.
Mary Mallon was an Irish immigrant who used her skills as a cook to earn her living. What she didn’t know was that she was also a healthy carrier of Typhoid Fever. She was the first person to be identified as an asymptomatic carrier of a disease like this. When she was arrested and detained by the New York Department of Health she fought and refused to believe that she could have been the cause of the deaths that occurred in the households where she had worked.
She was put under quarantine and held for years against her will. When she was released she agreed that she would not work as a cook. She later broke that promise and despite her refusal to believe that she could be the cause of the spread of disease, her carrier status continued to cause trouble.
The story of Mary Mallon is an interesting one. The idea of an asymptomatic carrier of disease was unheard of at the time of her quarantine. She was a smart woman but she simply could not believe that the deaths that happened in the households where she worked could be anything more than chance.
Even though this is fiction, the author thoroughly researched her topic. Mary’s quarantine on Brother Island in a small cottage on the grounds of a Tuberculosis hospital is told in a way that gives the reader a good sense of the fear, anger and isolation that Mary endured while there.
Her personal live and relationships before, during and after her first quarantine add balance to Mary’s story. What didn’t work so well for me was the extensive exploration of the story of Mary’s lover their relationship over the years. I understand why it was done this way in the book but for me it slowed the story down and I had to push myself a bit to continue with the second half of the book.
It’s an interesting fictional biography but it was a bit unevenly paced and while I’m glad I read it I don’t think it’s one I can heartily recommend.