Posts Tagged Mary Beth Keane

STEELE Picks: 20 Best Books of 2013

woman upstairs

1. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud [Knopf]
–a brilliant novel about anything but that typical woman upstairs. It’s about aspirations present and past, realized and forsaken.


2. The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna [Tin House Books]
–an intense book about squatting, community and political activism in the 90s

ghana must go

3. Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi [Penguin]
–a beautifully written book. haunting and lyrical. family, race, country, belonging.


4. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward [Bloomsbury]
–this memoir. raw. upsetting. the author mediates on the poverty in Louisiana and the black men she lost in its depths.


5. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat [Knopf]
–another novel in which I’m in awe of the writing style. gorgeous mystical tale about Haiti.


6. FEVER by Mary Beth Keane [Scribner]
-wondrous historical fiction about “Typhoid Mary.” fascinatingly imagined.

inbetween people

7. The Inbetween People by Emma McEvoy [The Permanent Press]
–stunning, powerful novel. Avi Goldberg writes from military prison because he refuses to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF]. He writes about his friend Saleem, an Israeli Arab he met. Their lives intertwine despite cultural differences and past troubles.

in the body of the world

8. In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler [Metropolitan]
–not only a memoir about Ensler’s personal journey with cancer but it’s a call to community, to get involved. so powerful I cried when I finished reading it.

valley of amazement

9. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan [ECCO]
–sweeping story about mothers and daughters set in turn-of-the-century Shanghai

Harvard Square

10. Harvard Square by Andre Aciman [W.W. Norton]
–melancholic, nostalgic autobiographical novel about belonging and assimilation that focuses on immigrants finding their place in America in the 70s.

sister mother husband dog

11. Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron [Blue Rider]
–the this essay collection, Delia tackles the profound to the superficial with wit, perception and charm. She maintains a steady wisdom-filled tone. She’s a woman who’s experienced plenty and shares mistakes, some secrets and reflects upon life-lessons with those willing to listen.

vampires in lemon grove

12. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell [Knopf]
–This collection of stories transports you to places you never imagined going to. Russell writes stories about variations on monsters. Beautiful, peculiar, unusual and tragic monsters. She creates bizarre, macabre and funny settings. Complete with vivid imagery, creepiness and potent emotions without an excess of verbiage. She writes dark, funny and tender.

freuds mistress

13. Freud’s Mistress by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack [Amy Einhorn]
–long rumored to have had an affair with his wife’s sister, Kaufman and Mack vividly imagine this sister’s character and life with the Freuds.


14. Montana by Gwen Florio [The Permanent Press]
–MONTANA drew me in immediately with its stellar page-turning plot, terrific characters and stunning descriptions of Montana scenery. Also Lola’s an independent feminist journalist determined to uncover the truth at any cost.

dirty love

15. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III [WW Norton]– author interview
–one of my all-time favorite authors writes vignettes about love, sex, relationships and the gritty, sticky, messy aftermath.


16. Lillian and Dash by Sam Toperoff [Other Press]
–What a charming novel that delves into the long affair between playwright Lillian Hellman [Little Foxes, The Children’s Hour] and noir author and screenwriter Dashiell Hammett [The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man].

big brother

17. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver [Harper Collins]
–Lionel Shriver expresses so many thoughts about obesity epidemic, how we indulge, how food is a treat, a central focus for holidays, outings, dates, meetings etc. Dazzling writing, vocabulary and character creation up until the ending.

together tea

18. Together Tea by Marjan Kamali [ECCO]– author interview
–insight into the immigrant experience. Humor, love, respect and mother-daughter bonding make this a book you’ll long remember after finishing the last page. It’s a love story to Persia as well as an acceptance for the United States.

hypothetical girl

19. The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen [Other Press]– author interview
–in this astute story collection, Elizabeth Cohen writes about dating in the digital age.

nothing serious

20. Nothing Serious by Daniel Klein [The Permanent Press]
–brilliant meditation on print media and its changing format and relevance.

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FEVER: book review


FEVER by Mary Beth Keane. Publisher: Scribner (March 12, 2013) Historical fiction. Hardcover. 352 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4516-9341-6

Opening sentences: “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.”

It’s 1907 at the beginning of FEVER and Mary Mallon’s dragged off, kicking and screaming, by authorities. They tell her she’s transmitting typhoid through her cooking which she refuses to believe as she’s never been sick herself. Leading the charges is Dr. Soper, a sanitary engineer. Mary’s taken to North Brother Island where tuberculosis patients and others with communicable diseases go to be kept far away from the general population. She must provide blood, urine and stool sample for years.

“At night, she slept with the sheet over her face in case she might breathe in their disease, but after a week she stopped worrying. During the day, she couldn’t stop herself from flaunting her health, walking back and forth by the windows, asking the nurses if she could be of assistance.”

How would it feel to be told you are the first identified carried of typhoid bacilli in America and people are dying because of you? Hello Typhoid Mary! Did Mary Mallon believe she was innocent? Did she ever truly understand the causality between being asymptomatic and transmitting through her cooking? These are questions that author Mary Beth Keane attempts to answer. She writes with empathy and detailed realism about the brutal immigrant experience at the turn of the 20th century. Life for a single working uneducated Irish woman in New York certainly wasn’t easy at this time. Her options were few: cleaning woman, laundress, cook [with experience and references]. Mary Mallon worked extremely hard and managed to secure positions with the wealthiest New York families and to garner excellent wages.

Mallon’s a compelling woman. Independent. Strong. Lives with a man but never marries him. Mary supports Alfred despite his alcoholism and inability to sustain work. He doesn’t exactly stick by her when it seems she might be on the North Brother Island for an extended stay. And on and off Mary Mallon was kept on North Brother Island for 26 years. In FEVER, Mallon often thinks that because she’s a woman Dr. Soper and other doctors treat her differently. This may have been the case. When the Department of Health discovers other asymptomatic typhoid carriers, they aren’t shipped off to North Brother Island. Although unlike Mallon, most agree to the terms: to stop handling food products, for instance.

“Some of the doctors had intimated that she was not right in her mind, that her mental state was part of the reason she could not be trusted, along with her being a woman, and being an immigrant, and being the kind of woman who lived with a man without being married.”

After writing to countless attorneys, one takes her case. Mallon manages to get probation. She’s told not to cook again after she’s released from North Brother Island but she finds a job at a bakery reasoning that baking and cooking can’t be considered the same things. This’ll make you chuckle and wince and shout to Mary. Dr. Soper chases Mary Mallon like Ahab chased Moby Dick. He never gives up. He finds her. She later re-kindles her relationship with Alfred and goes into hiding, taking in laundry for her neighbors. But Mary cannot stop doing what she adores doing. She starts cooking for her neighbors for a fee. Work gets around. Someone offers her work as the cook for a hospital. Soon there’s another typhoid outbreak. The gig is up for good.

FEVER gets into Mallon’s mind and heart featuring some heartbreaking scenes. It’s about justice, fear and how we treat disease. Truly a fascinating and engrossing read.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Simon and Schuster.

Mary Beth Keane will be at Brookline Booksmith on Monday, March 18 at 7pm.

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