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Editorial Reviews

Editors Select, March 2013 - Was Mary Mallon just a scapegoat? A victim of a paranoid society willing to vilify and discard a poor, Irish immigrant and domestic worker based solely on shoddy science and sensationalism? Fever tells the story as “Typhoid Mary” may have told it herself. Through her eyes we get an insider’s view of early 20th Century New York City and of the perfect storm she was swept up in. Not a meek, unsophisticated victim at all, Mary is a woman ahead of her time in many ways: unmarried by choice, a bread winner, a skilled cook and a fighter. She does not simply accept her diagnosis, and by questioning the science behind the accusations she adds pressure on the doctors to better understand the spread of disease, and on the legal system to address issues of public health and civil liberties. This is historical fiction at its best. —Tricia, Audible Editor

Publisher's Summary

A bold, mesmerizing novel about the woman known as "Typhoid Mary", the first known healthy carrier of typhoid fever in the early 20th 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 20th-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 asTyphoid 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.

©2013 Mary Beth Keane (P)2013 Simon & Schuster Audio

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  • Pamela
  • BARRINGTON, RI, United States
  • 04-08-13

Fascinating Story about an Interesting Woman

Any additional comments?

I truly enjoyed this novel about Mary Mallon, better known as Typhoid Mary. I didn't know much about Mary before reading this book and I found it fascinating on many levels - Mary's life in NYC in the late 1800s and early 1900s, her inability to understand that she was a healthy "carrier" of a potentially deadly illness and the way the medical community dealt with outbreaks of illness in a time before vaccines and antibiotics. All of it fascinating. The narrator was easy to listen to and did a decent job with Mary's brogue. An enjoyable read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Typhoid Mary, Victim or Villian?

I really enjoyed this book, I am not sure how historically accurate it is but I really don't care. It was a great look into the possible perspective into the thought process that Mary may have had. I actually like the storyline of Alfred and Mary, I like that it was about Mary's life not just typhoid fever.
The story shows a historical perspective on how women were treated, how immigrants were treated and also gives perspective into the immigrants in the lower east side how they lived and the struggles they faced daily.
It was interesting to think about how disease can be passed unwittingly from a carrier, how the government dealt with it then vs. how they deal with it now.
It also has a storyline highlighting addiction and how it not only effects the addict but the people who care about the addict.
All in all a very good and interesting read. I highly recommend it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • KELLY
  • DAYTON, OH, United States
  • 03-27-13

Wonderful book and wonderful narrator

What did you love best about Fever?

I enjoyed every bit of this book! The narrator does a fabulous job with Mary's accent and defining all the characters! I really recommend this book!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Patti
  • Chittenango, NY, United States
  • 05-18-14

One or the Other, Please

The historical points of this topic (typhoid fever) interests me both as a nurse and as a person. But there was little history here. The fiction part was barely of interest. I can only imagine the horror of a young immigrant girl being accused of causing death wherever she went. And then to be quarantined for years with no legal recourse!! How frightening and frustrating! But the author chooses to dwell on Alfred at length ...why? Narration was excellent.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Captivating Retelling

I haven’t written a book review in awhile but felt compelled to write this one. I enjoyed Mary Beth Keane’s the Walking People and once I heard the subject matter for this book, I was sold. A historic trial? A medical mystery? I couldn’t have picked a novel I more wanted to read.

I hope that is not a spoiler to note that Mary Mallon was the first well known ‘healthy’ carrier of Typhoid Fever. She was asymptomatic and since little was known about how sickness spread, it was hard for people to recognize the health risk she posed. She was a cook and though out breaks of Typhoid seemed to follow her wherever she was employed; she refused to believe she could be the source of the fever. Even after she was confronted with the possibility that she was spreading the fever. She refused to cooperate. She continued to cook until she was arrested and deatined. She wasn’t released for two years and only after agreeing not to cook. Despite all this, she cooks again. Changes her name and continues to cook until she is recaptured.

Enter Keane to deliver an entirely unexpected novelization of her life. The tendency to sort of side with Mary and vilify her treatment and compare it with others (non-working class males who may have received much better treatment) and conclude Mary was treated unfairly. Or try and convince readers that Mary’s recklessness led to unnecessary deaths even after the danger she posed to others was explained to her. Keane does something else. She seems to take both sides-- rallying a little for Mary and then highlighting her unsafe obstinacy. So the reader is both frustrated with and sympathetic towards, Mary.
Keane once again plays with time beginning somewhere in the middle of Mary’s story and then hopping all around throughout her life similar to her The Walking People narrative. Maybe more successfully this time, but I am still unsure why authors belabor this technique when a simple straightforward arc would serve.

What is known about Mary seems to all be spot on, but Keane adds a lot too. For instance additional deaths, a fabricated alcoholic live in lover, and a backstory are all provided. I’m torn too to what this all adds. A historical novelization works best for me when it holds as closely to the truth as possible. However these additive also provide period detail to further set Mary’s drama.

I am beginning to realize it sounds as if I am conflicted about the book which I am not. I highly recommend it for any historical fiction fans. Mary’s story horrified me, disgusted me, and baffled me in turns. I was genuinely engaged in Mary’s story from the very first through the last page.

And though the narrator slips in and out of an Irish accent inexplicably, she otherwise does a good job.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Who Was Typhoid Mary?

Was Mary Mallon just a scapegoat? A victim of a paranoid society willing to vilify and discard a poor, Irish immigrant and domestic worker based solely on shoddy science and sensationalism? Fever tells the story as "Typhoid Mary" may have told it herself. Through her eyes we get an insider's view of early 20th Century New York City and of the perfect storm she was swept up in. Not a meek, unsophisticated victim at all, Mary is a woman ahead of her time in many ways: unmarried by choice, a bread winner, a skilled cook, and a fighter. She does not simply accept her diagnosis, and by questioning the science behind the accusations she adds pressure on the doctors to better understand the spread of disease, and on the legal system to address issues of public health and civil liberties. This is historical fiction at its best.

6 of 10 people found this review helpful

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This is an amazing book!

I stumbled upon this book by accident, and I'm so glad I did. I may actually go out and buy a hard copy as well. I immediately wanted to know more about the subject of the book, and couldn't stop listening. I loved this novel!

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  • carmen
  • OFallon, MO, United States
  • 08-17-16

The story of Typhoid Mary

This was an interesting and often enraging story of survival. Mary was a strong, smart independent woman who knew her mind and did not believe she was causing people to get sick. It could never really be proven she was a carrier but circumstantial evidence did point to her. The enraging thing is that no one before or no one since has been treated the way she was. Additionally, the "love story" part was disgusting. Shame on you Mary Beth Keane. This could have been a story of an empowered woman but instead it was an all too familiar story of codependency, which is not love by the way.

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  • Paul
  • United States
  • 07-28-16

A great novelization of Typhoid Mary

Would you consider the audio edition of Fever to be better than the print version?

I've not read the print version, but I truly enjoyed Candace Thaxton's interpretation of Mary.

What did you like best about this story?

Mary's denial and confusion about her carrying the disease.

Which scene was your favorite?

Mary's escape.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

No.

Any additional comments?

I thought Candace Thaxton did an excellent job of giving Mary her attitude through voice. My only disappointment was in the Epiloge. Many of the statements in Mary's "diary" were spoken as questions. An annoying (to me) affectation of today's young adults. Eg. "They're good to me now?"

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An Excellent Work Of 'Fact-ion"

I just heard the word "Faction"-a mix of fact and fiction and it's made for books such as "Fever". Any casual reading of fact resources (i.e.:Wickipedia) make no mention of a man in 'Thyphoid Mary's' history, yet much of the 'fiction' aspect of 'Fever' revolves around Alfred, supposedly Mary's lover for many years and his issues with substance abuse.

I can understand the author adding a bit of romance interest to what might have been a dry book. And a reader can understand that a writer has to make up dialogue where none is recorded. The factual information about Mary herself is interesting and nicely written, however. I have to agree with other reviewers who have stated that author Keane goes astray when she writes on about Alfred, Mary's supposed lover, especially his trip to Minnesota - this is pure fiction which is presented as fact.

In any case, I found this a quick listen and very informative. Mary had an unfortunate life and in todays era it's difficult to understand how she was treated-isolated for years on an island in the river outside NYC.

If you're in the medical profession, or even if you enjoy historical fiction, which is how this should be presented, "Fever" is a good book for you.

Narrator Candace Thaxton did a good job with the varied accents but they were more modern than what one might hear in the early 1900's-still if the listener can overlook these issues, the book is informative and enjoyable.

Well worth the credit.