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 was born in New York City to Irish parents and grew up in Rockland County, New York. She attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA in Fiction. In 2011, she was named by Julia Glass to the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35.” She lives in Pearl River, New York with her husband and their two sons.
Praise for 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.”
“Mary Beth Keane inhabits Typhoid Mary in the infectiously readable Fever.”
“[Fever] is fluent and confident…Even if you aren’t interested in the medical detective story, you’ll enjoy the rich portrayal of work and class divisions at the turn of the 20th century.”
“[Keane] paints a more sympathetic portrait than ever before…[A] fascinating story.”
“[Keane] constructs a vivid and compelling backstory for her heroine, and a wonderfully complete picture of life of New York City in the early 20th century.”
“[An] excellent novel…Keane takes the facts and spins a probable life in such a way that one cannot help but cheer Mary on despite the knowledge that she carried potential death with her at all times. Looking back on Typhoid Mary a century later, Keane has given her the justice that eluded her during her lifetime.”
“Fans of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will find stirring parallels in Fever. Ultimately, this is a story that provokes a deeper understanding of the tenuous relationship between love, personal liberty and the common good.”
“In this compelling historical novel, the infamous Typhoid Mary is given great depth and humanity by the gifted Keane…A fascinating, often heartbreaking novel.”
“Keane has replaced the ‘Typhoid Mary’ cliché with a memorable and emotional human story.”
“Keane’s Mallon is a fiercely independent woman grappling with work, love, pride and guilt…A memorable biofiction that turns a malign figure of legend into a perplexing, compelling survivor.”