Mary Beth Keane, named one of the 5 under 35 by the National Book Foundation, has written a spectacularly bold and intriguing novel about the woman known as “Typhoid Mary,” the first person in America identified as a healthy carrier of Typhoid fever.
On the eve of the twentieth century, Mary Mallon emigrated from Ireland at age fifteen to make her way in New York City. Brave, headstrong, and dreaming of being a cook, she fought to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic-service ladder. Canny and enterprising, she worked her way to the kitchen, and discovered in herself the true talent of a chef. Sought after by New York aristocracy, and with an independence rare for a woman of the time, she seemed to have achieved the life she’d aimed for when she arrived in Castle Garden. Then one determined “medical engineer” noticed that she left a trail of disease wherever she cooked, and identified her as an “asymptomatic carrier” of Typhoid Fever. With this seemingly preposterous theory, he made Mallon a hunted woman.
Bringing early-twentieth century New York alive – the neighborhoods, the bars, the park carved out of upper Manhattan, the boat traffic, the mansions and sweatshops and merging skyscrapers, Fever is an ambitious retelling of a forgotten life. In the imagination of Mary Beth Keane, Mary Mallon becomes a fiercely compelling, dramatic, vexing, sympathetic, uncompromising, and unforgettable heroine.
“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.”
—THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
“Mary Beth Keane inhabits Typhoid Mary in the infectiously readable Fever.”
“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.”
—THE BOSTON GLOBE
“Keane not only makes of the headstrong Mary a sympathetic figure, she also brings the New York City of the early 20th century to teeming life, sweeping the readers into the crowded apartment buildings, filthy bars, and dangerous sweatshops of Upper Manhattan. Mostly movingly of all, she tells a great love story in depicting Mary and Alfred’s flawed but passionate relationship. A fascinating, often heartbreaking novel.”
—BOOKLIST (STARRED REVIEW)
“Keane has replaced the “Typhoid Mary” cliche with a memorable and emotional human story.”
“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 cliche ‘Typhoid Mary’; you will never utter those words again without remembering, and mourning, the real Mary Mallon.”
“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, heartbreaking story.”
“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.”