March 2013 Indie Next List
“This is the story of Mary Mallon - the infamous 'Typhoid Mary' -- who carried the typhus disease to an epidemic level among New York City residents during the first decade of the 1900s. Although perfectly healthy, it was believed that Mary was manufacturing typhoid bacilli inside her body and infecting those with whom she came in contact. She was forcibly hospitalized for three years until being released by the court under the condition she would never cook for hire again. Her Irish upbringing and talent as a cook caused her to defy that order, and she risked a return to the hospital. This is an intimate story and a compelling read.”
— Carol Hicks, Bookshelf At Hooligan Rocks, Truckee, CA
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.
The Department of Health sent Mallon to North Brother Island, where she was kept in isolation from 1907 to 1910, then released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary—proud of her former status and passionate about cooking—the alternatives were abhorrent. She defied the edict.
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 emerging 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.
About the Author
MARY BETH KEANE attended Barnard College and earned an MFA from the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns fellow. She was a winner of the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Prize in 2004 and was a 2005 Pushcart Prize nominee.