by Ann Patchett, 353 pages
When a strangely dispassionate letter arrives announcing that her colleague at her pharmaceutical company has died in the Brazilian jungle, Marina is sent in his footsteps to discover what really happened...and finish the job he couldn't.
This a beautifully written, heart-wrenching example of literary fiction that leaves the reader with a lot to think about (and talk about, if you do as I did and read it for a book club). Patchett's characters are sympathetic, deeply flawed, and tragically and / or triumphantly human. She brings up complicated, messy, no-win cultural, social, and personal issues and doesn't try to force a pat answer for any of them, though you can't help but get caught up in the debate and lean this way and that depending on your own compass. Without doing the work for you, she gives you tools and materials that let you imagine possibilities beyond the last page. I wanted to hit some characters very hard at the end and wrap others up in protective hugs while my brain dug backwards trying to see at what point or points this path could have been altered. Not everything here will work for every reader, and not everyone will imagine the same future, but that just makes discussing it with friends that much more rewarding.