Fever by Mary Beth Keane – Expected Publication: March 12th, 2013
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Typhoid Mary seems to be one of the historical nicknames we come across at one point or another, usually in a brief mention, and forget about soon after. Though I teach history, I had heard very little of Mary Mallon’s true story prior to reading Mary Beth Keane’s Fever.
In what is quickly becoming a popular genre, Keane takes bits of what was known about Mary Mallon and pieces together a fictionalized biography of her life as one of the first healthy carriers of Typhoid fever. Mary spent her life and livelihood cooking for others until the Department of Health quarantined, and eventually charged her, for intentionally spreading the disease through the food she served.
While it is difficult to get a true sense of everyone’s intentions from what has been left behind by history, Keane does a lovely job of writing a novel that is sympathetic to Mallon’s side without making her out to be completely innocent. Instead, she is written as a strong, modern character who is able to handle the unimaginable situations she is thrown in without blame or self-pity.
Unfortunately, I felt the pacing was off a bit in the second half of Fever. What was fascinating and page-turning through the beginning became a little too cyclical as Mallon’s decisions became repetitive. While I know Keane was following the character’s historical choices, I think the story would have benefited from focusing on a shorter time frame, particularly around the trial.
Still, I think it’s a very interesting read that is worth picking up. Keane writes her Typhoid Mary as a likable, fierce woman who we won’t be quick to forget.