Fever: A Novel

( 11 )

Overview

A bold, mesmerizing novel about the woman known as “Typhoid Mary,” the first known healthy carrier of typhoid fever in the early twentieth century—by an award-winning writer chosen as one of “5 Under 35” by the National Book Foundation.

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. ...

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Fever: A Novel

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Overview

A bold, mesmerizing novel about the woman known as “Typhoid Mary,” the first known healthy carrier of typhoid fever in the early twentieth century—by an award-winning writer chosen as one of “5 Under 35” by the National Book Foundation.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Patrick McGrath
What's of paramount interest here is the mind of a woman who could not and would not understand why, being herself in good health, she sickened others, and then, when the evidence became overwhelming, got twisted up in grotesque knots of delusion, paranoia and self-deception…until finally, inevitably, almost gratefully she gave in…It's in the tender, detailed portrayal of willed ignorance collapsing in the face of truth that Mary Beth Keane has made of Mary Mallon's life a fine novel of moral blindness, and also remorse, of a sort.
Publishers Weekly
Keane (The Walking People) rescues Typhoid Mary from her “cautionary tale” status by telling her true story. Apprehended by the New York Department of Health in 1907, following the deaths of the family for whom she cooks, Mary Mallon is turned into a guinea pig on an East River island with little to comfort her aside from rare letters from her lover Alfred. Slowly she builds a case to win her freedom and returns to a changed New York of Chinese laundries, tenement fires, and Alfred, now-destitute. Dogged by her reputation as a tainted woman, 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. Typhoid is frequently treated as though it’s little more than a metaphor for difference or estrangement, and we don’t entirely understand why Mary never seems to grasp the consequences of her actions. Still, as historical fiction, Fever seldom disappoints in capturing the squalid new world where love exists in a battlefield both biological and epochal. Agent: Chris Calhoun, the Chris Calhoun Agency. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“In Mary Beth Keane’s wholly absorbing, deeply moving new novel, Mallon emerges as a woman of fierce intelligence and wrongheaded conviction…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.”

“Mary Beth Keane inhabits Typhoid Mary in the infectiously readable Fever.”

“[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.”

“[Keane] paints a more sympathetic portrait than ever before…[A] fascinating story.”

“[Keane] constructs a vivid and compelling backstory for her heroine, and a wonderfully complete picture of life of New York City in the early 20th century.”

“[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.”

“Fans of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will find stirring parallels in Fever. Ultimately, this is a story that provokes a deeper understanding of the tenuous relationship between love, personal liberty and the common good.”

“In this compelling historical novel, the infamous Typhoid Mary is given great depth and humanity by the gifted Keane…A fascinating, often heartbreaking novel.”

“Keane has replaced the ‘Typhoid Mary’ cliché with a memorable and emotional human story.”

“Keane’s Mallon is a fiercely independent woman grappling with work, love, pride and guilt…A memorable biofiction that turns a malign figure of legend into a perplexing, compelling survivor.”

Julia Glass
Fever is a gripping, morally provocative story of love and survival that will take you by surprise at every turn. It is also a radiant portrait of a uniquely indomitable woman and of a uniquely tumultuous time in the history of our country. Bravely and brilliantly, Keane has brought to life the intimate human tragedy obscured by the scornful cliché ‘Typhoid Mary’; you will never utter those words again without remembering, and mourning, the real Mary Mallon.”
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.”
Eleanor Henderson
"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.
Library Journal
In the early 20th century in bustling and grimy New York City, Mary Mallon (1869–1938) became a medical first when she was identified as a healthy carrier of typhoid fever. Unknowingly, the house cook was passing the disease to families around the city. Eventually, typhoid outbreaks were traced to Mary, and she was placed in isolation. She was released three years later on the condition she would never cook again, but that promise proved hard for her to keep. Keane’s second novel (after The Walking People ) tells the tragic tale of “Typhoid Mary” and the dangerous decisions she made while following her passion for cooking. The award-winning writer mixes literary imagination with historical fact to humanize the notorious Mary. Readers will question Mary’s final choices but scrutinize the injustices committed against her and sympathize when she suffers. VERDICT 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. [Four-city author tour.] —Andrea Brooks, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib.., Highland Heights

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
A fictional portrait of Typhoid Mary, the Irish immigrant cook who spread disease and death among the cramped, unsanitary streets of turn-of-the-century New York. Opening with the arrest of Mary Mallon in 1907, Keane (The Walking People, 2009) moves back and forth across several decades to flesh out the famous plague carrier's character against a detailed social panorama. Mallon's arrival in 1883; her work ethic and ambition to rise from laundress to cook; her peculiar loyalty to work-shy Alfred Briehof, the alcoholic who refused to marry her--all these provide context as Keane explores Mary's treatment at the hands of the Department of Health. Quarantined first in a hospital and later on North Brother Island for two years, the "Germ Woman" eventually finds a sympathetic lawyer who works for her release on condition she never cooks for others. Liberated, Mary returns to laundry work in the city. Plague carrier she may be, but Keane's Mallon is a fiercely independent woman grappling with work, love, pride and guilt. Exhausted by the laundry and yearning to cook, Mary becomes a baker but is discovered by her nemesis, Dr. Soper. On the run, reunited with now morphine-addicted Alfred, she starts cooking at Sloane Maternity Hospital until realization and responsibility become unavoidable. A memorable biofiction that turns a malign figure of legend into a perplexing, compelling survivor.
The Boston Globe - Kate Tuttle
“In Mary Beth Keane’s wholly absorbing, deeply moving new novel, Mallon emerges as a woman of fierce intelligence and wrongheaded conviction…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.”
Vanity Fair - Elissa Schappell
“Mary Beth Keane inhabits Typhoid Mary in the infectiously readable Fever.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune - Brigitte Frase
“[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.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram - David Martindale
“[Keane] paints a more sympathetic portrait than ever before…[A] fascinating story.”
Westchester Journal-News - Karen Croke
“[Keane] constructs a vivid and compelling backstory for her heroine, and a wonderfully complete picture of life of New York City in the early 20th century.”
Historical Novels Review (Editors’ Choice) - Tamela McCann
“[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.”
Bookpage - W.S. Lyon
“Fans of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will find stirring parallels in Fever. Ultimately, this is a story that provokes a deeper understanding of the tenuous relationship between love, personal liberty and the common good.”
Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson
“In this compelling historical novel, the infamous Typhoid Mary is given great depth and humanity by the gifted Keane…A fascinating, often heartbreaking novel.”
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.”
Julia Glass
“I read [Fever] in a fever—the fever of emotional suspense that makes all the best books so essential…Mary Mallon is a show-stopping, strong-willed, heartbreaking heroine, and the New York in which she lived a hundred years ago comes stunningly alive as the backdrop for the story of her long and rich but star-crossed life.”
Eleanor Henderson
"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."
The New York Times Book Review - Patrick McGrath
“[A] tender, detailed portrayal of willed ignorance collapsing in the face of truth…A fine novel.”
USA Today - Don Oldenburg
“[Keane] is a talented storyteller, her style plain and steady, not unlike Mary’s demeanor. What’s most remarkable about this novel is its brilliantly visceral vision of everyday life in early-1900s New York City, a rich and detailed working-class backdrop filled with the sights, sounds and smells of tenement squalor, overcrowded apartments, unsanitary conditions, sweatshops, and streets teaming with people trying to survive…If you have an appetite for historical fiction, this novel could be infectious.”
Shelf Awareness
“A novel as rich in drama and the turn-of-the-20th-century atmosphere of New York as Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City is of Chicago…[Fever] is part science mystery, part love story, part legal thriller—but, finally, just a damn good novel.”
The Daily Beast - G. Clay Whittaker
“Keane builds a sympathetic character…the result is that, while we occasionally forget that Mary’s disease is inherently linked with her fate, we never lose sight of her as an afflicted individual.”
Cleveland Plain-Dealer - Susan Grimm
“Keane continues to impress with Fever, her historical novel about Mary Mallon, better known as Typhoid Mary…Keane resurrects New York City in all its teeming, sometimes seamy splendor.”
the Oprah magazine O
“In Keane’s assured hands, [Mary Mallon] becomes a sympathetic, complex and even inspiring character…Not only is Fever a compelling read for anyone who gets drawn into medical mystery shows, it will also send shivers through anyone who’s ever felt the ill effects of gossip or hypocrisy.”
The Washington Independent Review of Books - Rose Solari
“An absorbing and beautifully written novel…”
The San Francisco Chronicle - Caroline Leavitt
“[A] gripping historical novel…Mary Beth Keane gives Mary her own voice, creating a richly sympathetic and provocative portrait of the very real person behind the pariah.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451693416
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 3/12/2013
  • Pages: 306
  • Sales rank: 381,809
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Beth Keane

Mary Beth Keane was born in New York City to Irish parents and grew up in Rockland County, New York. She attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA in Fiction. In 2011, she was named by Julia Glass to the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35.” She lives in Pearl River, New York with her husband and their two sons.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 11 )
Rating Distribution

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(7)

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 20, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Reading about Mary Mallon, you feel the injustice that was done

    Reading about Mary Mallon, you feel the injustice that was done to her. Yet, if it were my child or relative that died, I certainly would feel differently.
    She was stripped of her life, literally, and put on an island in the Hudson River, North Brother Island. Left with very little contact, to the outside world. How could they do that to her? Written up in the press as Germ Lady, Typhoid Mary. Yet a dairyman who also is a carrier of the germ, is allowed to stay at home. He killed over a hundred people. Yes, Mary is credited with about 20 deaths.
    Mary is a spunky Irish immigrant, and pulls herself up from being a laundress to an exceptional cook. She wins raves from everyone who tastes her food. It is Mary's downfall. It is her passion, and yet people she has loved die.
    Mary Beth Keane has brought Mary Mallon to life, we meet the love of her life Alfred. Mary is content to live as Alfred's mistress, back in the late 1800's. That in itself had to be difficult. She was a woman before her time, living on the edge. Yet the people who loved Mary, really loved Mary, for who she was to them.
    When Mary, after three years, is finally let to return to her life, she is admonished to never take a job as a cook. Her passion is taken from her! Can she ever completely give cooking up? Her reasoning says that she has cooked for so many, and none of her friends have gotten sick?
    You are going to find this to be a very compelling historical read, and not going to put it down, until it is done. You will root for Mary, even though, we find her breaking the law?? What law? Don't miss this excellent story.

    I received this book through the Publisher Scribner, and Net Galley, and was not required to give a positive review.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2013

    An unforgettable story of life in New York City at the beginning

    An unforgettable story of life in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century. You will learn how patients with consumption (TB) and Typhoid Fever were treated by the medical profession. Also, life in New York City at this time is vividly portrayed. Historical fiction book fans will love this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2013

    Excellent.

    I have read both her books. Great reads. I highly recommend them. This book was fascinating. A++++ job.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2013

    Fascinating!

    Historical novel about Typhoid Mary, her life, her relationships, her incarceration, and New York in the early 1900's. Couldn't put it down.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Not Worth The Time

    Two stars because it was well researched and stuck relatively true to history. However it doesn't get much better than that. Unfortunately all of the researched historical parts were rushed through, and I felt like Mary Mallon accidentally spreading Typhoid was just a detail in the background. The majority of the book was a very badly written romance novel, which is not exactly what I wanted when I choose to read a book about "typhoid Mary". Maybe her relationship in the book was supposed to help humanize her, but it shouldn't have dominated the novel.

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  • Posted October 12, 2013

    Perfectly thought-provoking and fascinating from a medical stand

    Perfectly thought-provoking and fascinating from a medical stand point, a study of early 20th century human behavior and an around engrossing historical read, Fever is a fictional account about Mary Mallon and her unfortunate claim to fame as America's first identified asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid fever. The reader is immediately plunged into the controversial years surrounding Mary Mallon's service record as a hired cook for some of New York's elite and powerful, the atmosphere of the era is then introduced describing in detail the unsanitary conditions of New York and the gloom, expected death and sickness that sadly was a common occurrence of life. And then finally the reader is spun around to reexamine and question if Mary Mallon was really a victim of the times she lived and became a target for the growing hysteria and paranoia already directed toward the Irish or simply a callous stubborn woman who thumbed her nose at the medical community and continued to spread the bacterium Salmonella Typhi through her unhygienic cooking techniques? History and medical journals has painted Mary Mallon only one way and now we have another opportunity to reexamine the woman behind the infamous name, in Mary Beth Keane's Fever.

    In the end, I thought Fever was a generally captivating read and fictional story of Mary Mallon and the infancy of Epidemiology. I was immediately drawn by Ms. Keane's use of description and flare with storytelling. At the same time however, the story did sputter at times and became bloated with uninteresting characters and chapters. The theme seemed to shift from medical-historical fiction to unexpected romance that contained anachronistic dialogue, phrases and actions. Another view of the cat-and-mouse games that crept into the story would have been a great alternative to the romance. Still Fever is an overall noteworthy debut that should find its way on the shelves of those who are interested in the history of disease, fictional accounts of the misunderstood scapegoats of history or those who just love a good story.

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  • Posted June 22, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    4.5 stars I think it's pretty safe to say we've all come across

    4.5 stars

    I think it's pretty safe to say we've all come across the term Typhoid Mary at some point in our lives. But now that I know the history behind the term, I find myself not liking that phrase at all. Fever is a fascinating portrayal of a woman, an era, a specific time in New York City that is described in breath taking detail. Perhaps there will be a lot of people that will still find Mary Mallone a villain, that she was widely aware of her actions and the repercussions that would follow. I hated the way Mary was treated, and she was definitely demonized as a woman because I'm 100% sure that if she were a man, it would have been different.

    But the novel is much more than Mary Mallone's struggle. It's about her independent spirit, her relationship with Alfred and her other friends. I think Mary Beth Keane did a great job putting a human face to Mary Mallone, and I will never think of her as merely 'Typhoid Mary'. I really do believe that Mary did not want to hurt anyone, and unfortunately she has been marked as a criminal by history, but this novel really does her justice. I highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2013

    Read it

    Great book

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  • Posted April 8, 2013

    While I heard the phrase, "typhoid Mary" I never knew

    While I heard the phrase, "typhoid Mary" I never knew the real story behind it. I enjoyed the book but found at times it to be rather dull and not as in depth as I would have enjoyed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2013

    Great read

    Reallyenjoyed this book it just flowed and brought you into the story very fast you felt you knew mary mallon was also very informative from point of view that we all would have heard of thyfoid mary but knew nothing about her i enjoyed this book from start to finish and was sorry coming to the final pages that i at the end

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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