I'm happy to report that there's another Ann Patchett novel on the horizon -- June 2011, to be exact. Patchett is one of our most popular authors, with Run and Bel Canto being her two most recent novels. Her next novel, State of Wonder (Harper) returns to the South American setting of Bel Canto and is described as a "Conradian" (Heart of Darkness) novel.
The book centers around the relationship between two female physicians: 70-something Annick Swenson and 40-ish Marina Singh, who was Swenson's medical student. The relationship, in which the medical student owes everything to the teacher, who has completely forgotten this particular student, is one that is familiar to Patchett. Her studies at Sarah Lawrence University were dominated by two writers/teachers, Allan Gurganus and Grace Paley: "Everything they said, my 18-year-old heart took in....And I was nobody to them. That's an interesting dynamic."
In the novel (which Patchett has completed writing), Swenson has discovered a tribe of women in the Brazilian Amazon who are eternally fertile, and who are immune to malaria. When Swenson settles in the Amazon to create a vaccine for malaria, she gets involved in the politics of drug development.
Patchett is already at work on her next book, a collection of nonfiction essays. Bel Canto is one of my favorite books, so I will eagerly await the appearance of State of Wonder next summer.