Monday, January 28, 2013

Fever by, Mary Beth Keane

Fever by, Mary Beth Keane
Published by, Simon & Schuster, Inc. Scribner
Pub Date   Mar 12 2013

We have all heard of Typhoid Mary, but do any of us really know her story I know I didn’t. This is historical fiction so I’m sure liberties were taken in the telling of the story but that did not in any way stop this from being a fascinating read. Mary is an Irish immigrant, a cook and lives with a man without being married to him, so even before the Dept. of health comes for her she has a few strikes against her, it being the very early 1900’s. The author not only tells us about Mary but also gives a slice of life of New York City in the early 1900’s, the class structure, the housing, the jobs and even a horrifying glimpse at the triangle fire.

When Mary is first approached by Dr. Soper, you can’t help but wonder as she did if he is just making this all up to make a name for himself and using Mary for his own ends and honestly right up to the very end I wasn’t sure, was it just coincidence that some of the families Mary worked for got sick, people were getting sick elsewhere too so how was it Mary’s fault? This is just one of the questions that will really make you think while reading this book. I still don’t quite understand why Mary only infected people when she was cooking and how that didn’t happen every single time she cooked, she cooked for many families that never got sick. Even though Mary isn’t the most likeable person in the world you still can’t help but feel for her, here she is doing her job living her life and out of nowhere comes this man who calls himself a doctor telling her she is infecting people with typhoid and should come with him for tests. Now in the 1900’s or 2000’s what woman is going to take this man’s word and just go away with him, I too would have thought he was nuts!

When Mary is picked up by the police on Dr. Soper’s orders she fights it, she just can’t understand, she is not sick so how can she be passing it on to others, and you can’t help but sympathize with her, would you have thought any different? When she is taken to North Border (a small island with a hospital with TB patients) which was something I couldn’t understand, was Mary immune to every disease out there? Why weren’t they worried about her catching TB when they put in the hospital there? They did eventually build her a cabin, which would have said to me guess what you’re not leaving! Mary is fighting all of this tooth and nail and still I couldn’t help but empathize with her. She finally gets a lawyer who is trying to get her released , but all the doctors that testify during the court proceeding seem to make Mary out as feral child who needs supervision or a wanton murderer making people sick on purpose, and of course there is always a dig about her living arrangements. Needless to say this court hearing doesn’t go in Mary’s favor so she is hauled back to North Border.

A couple years later when she is finally released there are very specific stipulations, No Cooking, and she must check in with the Dept. of health every three months. Well we have learned by now how stubborn Mary is and she doesn’t believe anything these doctors are saying about her, she is good for a little while but she does love to cook and one thing leads to another and Mary does go back to cooking and everything is fine for awhile until things aren’t anymore and Mary finally has to face the facts of her life.

Mary and her live-in boyfriend Alfred have a volatile relationship and is on again off again whenever he gets to drinking too much, but Mary loves him, this was just an added element of this book to tell us of her relationship but it was a good story even if their relationship was dysfunctional, it tells us about Mary and what kind of woman she was.

I could not stop reading this book and am now going to read some others about Mary because I found her and her case fascinating. I am left with some question; Do you think this kind of thing could happen now? Do you think it does? How do you think the press would have handled this situation in the present day? Would you have thought as Mary did? Or would you have seen the truth and not gone back to cooking? It is really hard to step into someone’s shoes and say well I would have handled this differently, I would have listened to the doctors (when actually Soper was NOT a doctor) or would you have vehemently denied it like Mary did, I myself would have run as Mary ran when they first tried to bring her in, and when you have been completely isolated from everything and everyone you know and held a virtual prisoner, when in your mind there is nothing wrong with you would you have gone back to the job you loved?

Ok,  can you tell I loved this book and that it really brought up so much to think about, I think this book will become a must have for bookclubs , and I will be recommending to anyone who asks (or doesn’t) for my opinion. This book tells a great and fascinating story, gives a great “feel” for the time period and setting and will leave you thinking about it for a long time after you are done.

What are you waiting for? Go pre-order this one NOW!

5 Stars
I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher Simon & Schuster


  1. Susie, I recorded a newspaper article about Mary and a lengthy article about the Triangle factory fire for LibriVox. Mary's life was a sad one which was compounded by her inability to understand that she could make others sick (they often died) but never feel sick herself. There was a pretty good documentary on PBS about Mary approx. a year or so ago. You might be able to find it on the PBS site.

    Lee Ann

  2. Ohh thanks I will try to find those!