Summary and book reviews of Fever by Mary Beth Keane

Fever
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2013,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2014,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

A bold, mesmerizing novel about the woman known as "Typhoid Mary," the first known healthy carrier of typhoid fever in the burgeoning metropolis of early twentieth century New York.

Mary Mallon was a courageous, headstrong Irish immigrant woman who bravely came to America alone, fought hard to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic service ladder, and discovered in herself an uncanny, and coveted, talent for cooking. Working in the kitchens of the upper class, she left a trail of disease in her wake, until one enterprising and ruthless "medical engineer" proposed the inconceivable notion of the "asymptomatic carrier" - and from then on Mary Mallon was a hunted woman.

In order to keep New York's citizens safe from Mallon, the Department of Health sent her to North Brother Island where she was kept in isolation from 1907-1910. She was released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary - spoiled by her status and income and genuinely passionate about cooking - most domestic and factory jobs were heinous. She defied the edict.

Bringing early twentieth-century New York alive - the neighborhoods, the bars, the park being carved out of upper Manhattan, the emerging skyscrapers, the boat traffic - Fever is as fiercely compelling as Typhoid Mary herself, an ambitious retelling of a forgotten life. In the hands of Mary Beth Keane, Mary Mallon becomes an extraordinarily dramatic, vexing, sympathetic, uncompromising, and unforgettable character.

PROLOGUE
1899

The day began with sour milk and got worse. You were too quick, Mary scolded herself when the milk was returned to the kitchen in its porcelain jug with a message from Mr. Kirkenbauer to take better care. He was tired, Mary knew, from the child crying all night, and moaning, and asking to be rocked. And he was worried. They'd tried to spare him—Mary, Mrs. Kirkenbauer, and the nanny had taken shifts with the boy, but the boy's room was just across the hall from his parents', and the boards of the new house creaked and whined, and the women sometimes forgot to keep their voices lowered, and finally Mr. Kirkenbauer had emerged from the master bedroom in his nightshirt to ask what could be done. "Give him to me," he'd said to Mary at the start of her shift, just as the bleary-eyed nanny hurried back to her small room at the rear of the house.

At two o'clock in the morning none of them cared about being seen in their nightclothes. She'd handed...

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Introduction

Mary Mallon was a brave, headstrong Irish immigrant who journeyed alone to America. She began as a laundress, but with an innate talent for cooking, Mary ascended the domestic service ladder and worked as a cook for upper-class families. Unbeknownst to Mary, she left a trail of Typhoid fever and death in her wake. One "medical engineer," proposing a new theory of "asymptomatic carriers," traced the fever back to the woman we now know as "Typhoid Mary." To prevent Mary from further spreading the disease, the New York Department of Health isolated her on North Brother Island for three years. A condition of her release was that she would never cook professionally again. But Mary's passion for cooking, combined with the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Heart wrenching and dark but I was unable to put Fever down. Amidst the churning and changing of bustling New York City Mary is trying to find understanding and meaning and some element of peace in a world where she unwittingly has become an angel of death.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (1229 words).

Media Reviews
The Boston Globe

Transforming a lived past into riveting fiction, Keane gives us a novel that thrums with life, and a heroine whose regrets, though entirely specific, feel utterly familiar.

Historical Novels Review

Editor's Choice. [An] excellent novel…Keane takes the facts and spins a probable life in such a way that one cannot help but cheer Mary on despite the knowledge that she carried potential death with her at all times. Looking back on Typhoid Mary a century later, Keane has given her the justice that eluded her during her lifetime.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

[Fever] is fluent and confident…Even if you aren’t interested in the medical detective story, you’ll enjoy the rich portrayal of work and class divisions at the turn of the 20th century.

Publishers Weekly

Mary defies the virus she carries by doing what she does best, even as her nemesis - the "medical sleuth" Dr. Soper (the novel's most engaging figure) - hounds her from kitchen to kitchen. There's a tremendous amount of retrospection and research circling the myth, but Keane, by staying so close to Mary, occasionally loses sight of what might have been a more lucrative subject: the birth of the health scare.

Library Journal

Even for those who know the outcome, fiction fans will eagerly anticipate each new page where disease lurks behind every compassionate corner. Keane has replaced the "Typhoid Mary" cliché with a memorable and emotional human story.

Booklist

Starred Review. Keane not only makes of the headstrong Mary a sympathetic figure, she also brings the New York City of the early twentieth century to teeming life, sweeping readers into the crowded apartment buildings.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A memorable biofiction that turns a malign figure of legend into a perplexing, compelling survivor.

Author Blurb Julia Glass, National Book Award-winning author of Three Junes
A gripping, morally provocative story of love and survival that will take you by surprise at every turn.

Author Blurb Billy Collins
Fever manages to rescue a demonized woman from history and humanize her brilliantly. Mary Beth Keane brings to light a moving love story behind the headlines, and she carries the reader forward with such efficiency, you will hardly notice how graceful are her sentences and how entwined you have become with this fascinating, heart-breaking story.

Author Blurb Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints
Like the silent carrier who is its heroine, this novel is so quietly assured that you won't suspect it capable of transmitting such violence. It will seize you with its breathtaking intensity, its authority, and its beating heart.

Reader Reviews
Lora O. (Antioch, CA)

Rough Beginnings of the American Public Health System
I have a bookshelf of books on various diseases, both non-fiction and fiction and I understand the causes of typhoid, but I never thought of what it might feel like to be a healthy carrier of such a deadly disease until I read Mary Beth Keane's ...   Read More

Liz C. (Kalamazoo, MI)

Fever
Mary Beth Keane has created an intriguing, empathetic portrait of "Typhoid Mary" in Fever. Mary Mallon is a hard working, independent, talented and sympathetic character. I also found the story of Mary's fictional (?) and troubled lover, Alfred, and ...   Read More

Lynne G. (rockville, MD)

Fever by Mary Beth Keane
Fever is a remarkable book. The author's characters are so real that they remain with you after you have put down the book. Moreover, you wonder what they are doing while you are away from them. She has conjured up long gone people and brought ...   Read More

Peggy K. (Long Beach, CA)

Fever Blues
On the surface here you have a simple story of a young Irish woman trying to make good in America. A good read but this isn't just any young woman, this is the woman we all know now as Typhoid Mary. The book fictionalizes her personal life using ...   Read More

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A Short History of Typhoid

Typhoid is a life-threatening illness caused by the bacteria Salmonella Typhi. Approximately 400 cases are found in the U.S. per year (mostly due to traveling) but it is prevalent in the developing world where a staggering 21.5 million people are infected per year, and 200,000 of those people die. Here is a short history of its origins, symptoms, and prevention.

History of Typhoid

Bust of PericlesBetween 430-424 BC an unidentified plague killed a full one third of the population of Athens. Among those who died was the the great general, orator and statesman, Pericles, the defacto leader of Athens. It was a major moment in time as it marked the end of the Golden Age of Pericles and shifted power in Greece from Athens to Sparta. Another famous Greek, ...

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