Listening in on those who know what they’re doing

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder is the current fiction of choice–a quiet, stunning novel about zealous, neurotic doctors in the throes of a search. One of these, Dr. Swenson, is speaking to the other, Dr. Singh, about a matter of contention between them. Dr. Swenson is making her point obliquely, knowing that Dr. Singh is bright enough to follow along, wanting to discourage a journey the former believes to be both dangerous and unnecessary. Dr. Swenson reminds Dr. Singh of another person, Dr. Rapp, whose work also attracted people with more fascination than commitment, or understanding:

“An endless succession of mongrels and malingerers, the laziest dropouts who fancied themselves explorers. He made his policy clear: he was not responsible for their food, their shelter, their safety, or their health. He didn’t waste his time discouraging them because frankly there was no discouragement they could not withstand. All of the energy they could have put into their intelligence they had used to develop their tenacity. But what I quickly learned was that their tenacity was for going, not for staying.”  (State of Wonder, p. 151)

Sit under writing like this, as an author or as a reader, and you cannot help but learn, or to be moved.

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