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Fever: A Novel

Fever: A Novel

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Fever: A Novel

4/5 (54 ratings)
415 pages
7 hours
Mar 12, 2013


Written by Scribd Editors

In this captivating and unrelenting historical fiction, acclaimed author Mary Beth Keane draws readers into a must-read look at the infamous 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 worked her way to the kitchen, and discovered in herself the true talent of a chef. 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. 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.

Fever is an ambitious retelling of a forgotten life. In the imagination of Keane, Mary becomes a fiercely compelling, dramatic, vexing, sympathetic, uncompromising, and unforgettable heroine.

Mar 12, 2013

About the author

Mary Beth Keane attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA. She has been named one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35,” and was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for fiction writing. She currently lives in Pearl River, New York with her husband and their two sons. She is the author of The Walking People, Fever, and Ask Again, Yes.

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Fever - Mary Beth Keane



Jesus Mercy

—Mary Mallon’s headstone

St. Raymond’s Cemetery

Bronx, New York




The day began with sour milk and got worse. You were too quick, Mary scolded herself when the milk was returned to the kitchen in its porcelain jug with a message from Mr. Kirkenbauer to take better care. He was tired, Mary knew, from the child crying all night, and moaning, and asking to be rocked. And he was worried. They’d tried to spare him—Mary, Mrs. Kirkenbauer, and the nanny had taken shifts with the boy, but the boy’s room was just across the hall from his parents’, and the boards of the new house creaked and whined, and the women sometimes forgot to keep their voices lowered, and finally Mr. Kirkenbauer had emerged from the master bedroom in his nightshirt to ask what could be done. Give him to me, he’d said to Mary at the start of her shift, just as the bleary-eyed nanny hurried back to her small room at the rear of the house.

At two o’clock in the morning none of them cared about being seen in their nightclothes. She’d handed the boy to his father, a baby really, still a baby; they called him a boy because he’d started calling himself a boy, but it wasn’t true just yet, in six more months, perhaps, yes, but not yet, not with those fat legs and cheeks, that unsteady, tottering step, the fact that he still loved a lap more than any chair. Mr. Kirkenbauer had observed in a whisper, He’s very warm. He put his pursed lips against the boy’s forehead. Then he handed the child back to Mary and sat on the chair in the corner as she rocked the boy and told him all the wonderful things the morning would bring. Did he want to see a sailboat? Mary asked. Did he want to throw rocks in the river? Did he want a warm bun straight from the oven? But the child only stared, and cried, and wrapped his hot arms around Mary’s neck, tight, like they were at sea, and she his buoy, and he was terrified of losing his grip.

Mary tried not to make too much of the milk being sent back, of the expression on the butler’s face that was meant to mime Mr. Kirkenbauer’s, and she reminded herself that Mr. Kirkenbauer was exhausted when he complained about the milk, they all were, and who knew what tone he’d really used when he gave the message to the butler, who had struck Mary from her first day as a nervous type. Mrs. Kirkenbauer was still upstairs, sleeping or trying to, and the nanny was giving the boy a cool bath, his third in as many hours. A light rash had bloomed across his chest, and in the very early hours of the morning Mrs. Kirkenbauer had suggested a plaster of bread and milk, or running to a neighbor for linseed oil, but Mary had said no, she’d seen the rash before, there was nothing for it but rest and trying to get the boy to eat something. The Kirkenbauers weren’t the richest family Mary had ever worked for. Their kitchen was not as modern as most where Mary had cooked. But they were kind people, they paid her good wages, and other than a few specific requests from Mrs. Kirkenbauer, Mary had leave to do the shopping and serve whatever she liked.

Sometimes, after supper, Mrs. Kirkenbauer pitched in with the scrubbing, which Mary was baffled to discover she didn’t mind. A mistress who hung around the kitchen with her hands in pots and pans and pantry would normally be intolerable, and if Mary had been told this was the way it was going to be she never would have taken the job in the first place, but now that she was there, and had gotten to know them, she was surprised to find that she didn’t mind a bit. Mrs. Kirkenbauer had three sisters in Philadelphia and said she missed female company more than anything. Mary continually tried to take the temperature of her mistress’s ease, so that perhaps, one day, she’d work up the nerve to ask her a question. Had she always been a person of means, or only when she married Mr. Kirkenbauer? The Kirkenbauers didn’t know many people in Dobbs Ferry yet, which meant they seldom entertained, which meant Mary rarely had to cook for more than the three in the family and the staff and herself. The house looked at the Hudson, and on Sundays when the weather was fine they had picnics on the riverbank and always invited any among the servants who had not traveled home to their own families for the day.

Mary took the jug of milk the butler extended toward her. Is it really gone? she asked as she lifted it to her nose. It’s gone, she confirmed, clenching her teeth against the urge to vomit. She walked quickly to the narrow back door to throw it out. There was a faint sucking sound as the milk pulled away from the jug, and Mary watched it fly through the air as a solid thing until it landed, about six feet away, a white lump in the wet grass. In a few seconds the foul smell filled up the space between the lump and the doorway where Mary was still standing. She fetched the kettle, just boiled, and hurried outside to stand over the wet lump with her head swiveled away as she poured the steaming water over it. She turned back just in time to watch it disappear in curdled rivers, get caught up in the green blades, soak into the ground.

Is that the end of it? The butler asked, worried, casting his eyes toward the long hall that led back to the dining room.

There’s more. There’s plenty, Mary said. That was only what I was saving for bread, but I forgot, last night, when I made the bread I used the buttermilk. I was too quick. The ice is low. I broke off big pieces to put in the child’s bath, and what’s left of the block needs more sawdust. They need a right icebox here is what they need. They need one of those zinc-lined jobs. I put the good milk in the back of the box, but this morning— Mary thought she heard a footstep in the hall. She raised a finger to the butler to wait.

This morning? he said. They were alone. The recently cut timbers of the house creaked under the weight of the night’s lashing rain, and now, even with every single window open and every door propped wide, the air was thick and hot. It settled on everything and all morning the collar of Mary’s dress had felt like a noose.

Nothing. It was no use explaining. Mr. Kirkenbauer was waiting in the dining room with his bowl of dry blueberries and his coffee still black. Here, Mary said, putting a fresh jug onto the butler’s salver. She’d have to make new bread for lunch to make up for the mistake, even though there was nearly a full loaf on the counter from yesterday, even though that loaf would be fine with a little toasting, a pat of butter spread on top.

How’s the child this morning? the butler asked. His room was on the third floor, and thanks to that distance he had gotten a full night’s sleep.

No better, no worse. Poor thing.

The butler nodded. About the milk, Mary. It’s only to be expected in this heat. That’s probably why the child feels feverish. I feel feverish myself.

Not all butlers were so kind, but it seemed to work from one extreme to another in every house she had cooked for. Either the staff was a team that signaled one another with silences or a clandestine nod, or they were competitors, each one trying to smudge out the others’ good work.

  •  •  •  

Mary had been with the Kirkenbauers for only a month when the boy got sick, and later, when she looked back, she struggled to remember exactly what circumstances had brought her there, all the way up to Dobbs Ferry, when there were plenty of open positions in Manhattan. Alfred was still finding good work in 1899. He was still getting a clean shave every other day, earning Friday wages he handed over to Mary to pay a portion of their rent, their food. The agency had often wanted to send her to New Jersey, or Connecticut, or over to the western side of the Hudson where the trains didn’t reach, but she always refused unless they were short-term jobs that paid too much to decline, and ultimately those families usually went with a lesser cook, someone who couldn’t get a job with a Manhattan family. But Mary could get a job with a Manhattan family, so why had she agreed to go up there to Dobbs Ferry to a woman who was not a proper mistress but half-servant herself, the way she leaned in to the pot to be scrubbed, the way she cast her eye around the kitchen for grease. Maybe it was because when she met Mrs. Kirkenbauer at the agency there was something about the woman she liked. She didn’t ask Mary if she was a Christian. She didn’t ask if she was married or planning on getting married. She asked only about her cooking, and when the woman talked about food, about the responsibility of getting meals together every day of the week, she seemed to be speaking from experience.

Have you ever made sauerkraut, or do you always purchase it? Mrs. Kirkenbauer had asked during their first meeting, and Mary admitted that she’d never done either, without adding that no employer she’d ever worked for had wanted sour cabbage and its sharp aroma anywhere near the floral patterns of their halls, the intricate moldings of their ceilings. If Alfred had an evening yearning for it he went out to the streets in search of the roaming sauerkraut man and the steel drum he wore around the city.

Would you be willing to learn if I showed you once? Are you a quick learner? How far removed is this woman from her native Philadelphia’s version of the Lower East Side, Mary wondered, but simply answered Yes.

Was that all it took to get Mary to agree to leave the city that summer? Had the wages been better than she remembered? No. Years later, when she had all the time in the world to think about it, every hour of the day if she chose, every single minute, nothing seemed to add up, least of all seeing a younger version of herself step off a train to await pickup by Mr. Kirkenbauer himself because they had no full-time chauffeur. Alfred had begged her to decline the job. He’d wanted her to find something closer to home, promising a Fourth of July fireworks show she’d never forget. He’d already begun stockpiling the rockets and sparklers, and planned to invite everyone in their building to watch. But the Fourth of July fell on a Tuesday that year, and Mary didn’t want to organize her summer around one single day, so she left Alfred alone on Thirty-Third Street to fend for himself. Maybe that was the spring when he told her once and for all that he’d never marry her. Not because he didn’t love her, but because he didn’t believe in it. In the old country, fine, some customs could not be shaken, but what was the point of America if two people couldn’t do as they pleased?

Funny how she grew so used to Alfred and the way they were that it was hard to believe there was ever a time when she wanted him to marry her, a time when she thought that he would, eventually, when his mind came around to it, when he admitted to himself and to her it was only the right thing to do. It was even harder to believe that she’d ever considered their not being married their biggest problem. Maybe the summer of 1899 was when she finally admitted the possibility that the things he said were really the things he believed. There was no secret code to crack, no door she could knock upon to make him come around. She was not a woman who should have to convince a man to marry her. There were plenty who would trip over themselves for the chance. That was it, she remembered, a lifetime later, when she went over the details of that summer once again. That must have been it. Her pride was injured. She wanted to teach him a lesson. She wanted space from him to think, maybe to work up the courage to leave him, to try for a different kind of life. So she went away that summer, and wished him the best for his fireworks show, and told him she’d be home on Sundays or she wouldn’t, depending on her mood.

And there’s a child, isn’t there? the woman at the office had said during that first meeting, glancing at her notes. Mary noticed that Mrs. Kirkenbauer’s clothes were exquisite, every stitch in its place, the fabric somehow skimming her slim figure and hiding it at the same time. She was younger than Mary, with a beautiful German face.

Yes, one, a boy. Is that a problem?

Of course not, the agent had said. Mary loves children. Don’t you, Mary?

I do, Mary said in a flat voice.

Mary did not love all children, but she did love that boy. Within forty-eight hours of her arrival in Dobbs Ferry she saw that there would be no way to keep baby Tobias out of her kitchen, so she told his nanny to leave him, set him up on the floor with a toy and let him watch. The clever boy played happily until his nanny was out of sight, and then he reached his hands up to Mary to be lifted so he could see for himself what she had on the stove. Spoon, he said, when he wanted a taste. Hot! he warned when he saw steam coming up from a pot. She gave him a new word every day and he stored it, trotting it out a few days later like he was born knowing it. It got so it was lonely in the kitchen without him. When he was there with her she talked to him all afternoon. You are a good boy, Mary would say, and he’d beat his chest and say good boy. When she dressed in the mornings, long before anyone else in the house was up, she looked forward to the tug of his chubby hand on her skirt, his fat little legs sticking out beneath his short pants. She listened for him coming down the hall before breakfast, running as fast as he could manage toward her kitchen, to see her, to press his soft cheek against hers and say her name.

And then came the morning when he didn’t run to her, the morning when he walked, slowly, and when he got to the kitchen just sat in a corner and watched in silence, his plump cheeks rosy and hot when she touched them. When she lifted him his body was slack, like he was already asleep, and when she carried him he rested his head in the nook of her shoulder and abandoned himself to her, legs splayed across her hips, arms hanging at his sides. Bread with jam? she said to him, a test, the treat he loved most in the world. But he just looked at her, glassy-eyed, like he’d gotten older and wiser overnight and had moved beyond the excitement of bread and jam. As if the boy who loved bread and jam was another boy entirely, and this was a new boy, a more serious boy, a boy who knew as much as any adult. For a few minutes, as she swayed with him in the kitchen and listed all the things he loved to eat, she pretended to herself that she didn’t know.

Tobias isn’t feeling well, Mary told the nanny, and the nanny told Mrs. Kirkenbauer. The three women convened in the parlor, where Tobias had fallen asleep on a pillow.

Too much sun yesterday, his mother said, as she put her hand to his face. And he had all that pie after dinner last night.

Should I ask the doctor to come?

No, Mrs. Kirkenbauer said. Sleep will cure him. He’ll be better by supper. Leave him where he is.

But he did not get better; he got worse, and after four days of the doctor coming by to tell them that there was nothing to be done except draw the cool bath and try to get him to eat, and on the same day as Mary served Mr. Kirkenbauer milk that had gone thick and sour overnight, Mrs. Kirkenbauer began to feel low, and then the nanny, and then the butler, and then the gardener, who came only twice a week, always taking lunch with them when he was there. After Tobias they all seemed to get sick at the same time, in the same hour, and God forgive her but she ignored the others until she got that baby into the tub. Tub, he said, a whisper, when she put him in the water, keeping a hand under his arm so he wouldn’t slip. She floated chunks of ice she’d hammered from the block and told him they were icebergs, and he a sea captain, and it was his job to make sure the ship didn’t run aground. He didn’t object to the cold. He didn’t demand a toy. He didn’t ask for his mother. He didn’t cry. After the bath, after his fingers had gone to raisins and she was afraid to leave him in there any longer, she wrapped him in a clean sheet and told him stories while he curled up in a ball like he was still a newborn, his knees tucked up to his chest. He looked more like a baby in the sheet, his curls damp, his cheeks so pink that a portrait of him at that moment might have made him look like a healthy child, the healthiest, like he’d just spent an hour running outside on a chilly winter’s day.

And then, on the seventh night of his illness, after a few hours of rocking, while the others called for her from distant rooms, his little body went limp, felt heavier in her arms. His head against her shoulder was a ton weight, his legs like anchors across her thighs. The hot flutter of his breath that had tickled her neck for the past several hours had disappeared. Mary rocked him faster, telling herself he’d be better after he’d had a good sleep for himself. He hadn’t had a proper rest in a week and now he was just having a sleep. Just sleep. A good, sound sleep.

After a while, she laid him in his crib and went to tell Mr. Kirkenbauer, the only other member of the household who was not sick. He’s gone, sir, she said, and put her hand on his shoulder before she realized what she’d done. The doctor said Mrs. Kirkenbauer should not be told if she was to have any chance of recovery, and so Mary tried to keep the news from her face when she went in to nurse her. But, one week later, Mrs. Kirkenbauer died as silently as her son, and the butler the day after that. The nanny and the gardener recovered.

  •  •  •  

Two weeks after the boy’s death, after seeing to his little funeral suit, Mary packed her things and walked to the train station, leaving Mr. Kirkenbauer alone to decide what to do about all those dresses, that big, infected house, all those toy boats, the wooden horses, the collection of little shoes and caps. Maybe it was the timber, people said. Where had it been shipped from? Maybe it was the slope of the land and the way the water ran off down to the river. Maybe it was the pipe leading from the indoor privy. Maybe it was all the pickled herring and pigs’ knuckles Mrs. Kirkenbauer asked her cook to buy in town. Maybe the mistress didn’t know how to run a house, being the daughter of a Philadelphia grocer and the granddaughter of a cabbage-shaver. How lucky for her, the neighbors said, to have caught the eye of Alexander Kirkenbauer. How unlucky for him.

People said the old country was full of death, Mary’s old country and everyone else’s. The American papers would have a person believe Europe was one large sick ward, the people dying in ditches, blown over by every stiff wind. Alfred’s Germany was like her Ireland, from the sound of it: people fighting every minute to stay on the side of the living, killing one another over a bowl of rabbit stew, and praying every day that the roofs of their shelters would stay where they were. When babies were born everyone willed them to live, but there was no surprise when they died, eventually, almost all of them, including the two Mary had cared for herself, bringing them eight, nine, ten times a day to the teat of a neighbor’s goat so they could suckle what Mary’s sister couldn’t offer, having died bringing them to life, and what Mary couldn’t offer, being only fourteen at the time, and having no babies of her own. The goat let them suck, but they died anyway, first the boy, and then the girl, and that’s when Mary’s nana told her it was time for her to leave Ireland, to leave while she was able. In America, Nana said, people didn’t die so easily. It was the air, she supposed. The meat.

But people died in America, too, Mary learned quickly. It was just a sneakier death, a crueler death, in a way, because it always seemed to come by surprise. She didn’t notice at first, but then she began to see it all around her. A meal pushed away for lack of appetite. A nap in the afternoon. A tired feeling that turned into a head cold, a rash into a ring of fire, a head cold into a fever that ravaged the person, left him beyond the reach of help. If they didn’t die of illness, they died in fires, they were run over by streetcars, drowned in the river, suffocated after slipping into a coal hill and unable to scramble back to the surface. Neighbors, strangers on the street, peddlers at the market, children, priests, landlords, ladies. They all died, and every death was brutal. So what’s a body to do? Mary thought as she stared out the train window at the Hudson and counted the minutes until she’d see Alfred again.

But that warm, clever little boy this time. The more she instructed herself to think about other things, the more she thought of him, like lifting a black tarp to glimpse something horrible below. Glimpses were all she could manage. His face. That peculiar, angled light in the Kirkenbauer kitchen. The dead weight of him.

Recently, when she and Alfred were talking about marriage and managing to not raise their voices, he’d asked whether she wanted a child. If she wanted to have a child, then that was different. Then they’d have to be married for the child’s sake. But I thought you didn’t want that, Alfred pointed out, and she realized it was probably something she’d said. Not because she didn’t think she’d love a child, or because she didn’t think she’d be a good mother. She knew she’d love their child fiercely, entirely. She’d think about him or her every minute of her life, and that was the danger. They were so fragile, and it was so long until they grew strong. She thought of her sister’s babies curled against each other in their cradle, and then the girl alone, how at only eight days old she seemed to be searching for her brother, her newborn fists closed so tight Mary believed for a day she might live. She thought of Mr. Kirkenbauer, the day he picked her up from the train, how he had no idea what was coming.

I’m sorry I left, she’d say to Alfred, who would be surprised to see her home so soon. But she wouldn’t tell him what had happened, because how could she possibly explain to anyone about that boy, that baby? How could she begin? Thinking about him for a single second—the strong grip of his small hand, his belly, the happy swing of his leg on the chair when he bit into a piece of orange—any thought of him at all brought a roaring into her ears like she’d been plunged into the ocean with a weight tied around her foot.

No, she decided. No. She’d go home and try to forget and do as she’d always done, which was work hard and be thankful every day for her good health, her life.




March 24, 1907

Cook Accused of Giving Typhoid to New York’s Prominent Families


So Say Authorities Holding Her Prisoner


Sanitary Engineer Alleges She Communicates the Disease to Others Although Immune Herself

(Staff) New York—The cook for a prominent Upper East Side family has been forcibly removed from her employment and quarantined in Willard Parker Hospital after sanitary engineer and medical investigator George A. Soper alleged that she has been passing Typhoid Fever through her cooking, though she manifests no signs of the disease herself. At the time of her capture she was cooking for one of the wealthiest families on Park Avenue. Dr. Soper further alleges that the daughter of the family was battling Typhoid Fever at the time the cook was apprehended, and has since succumbed to the disease.

Dr. Soper, the medical sleuth at the center of this case, put the pieces of this groundbreaking puzzle together after being called upon to investigate a Typhoid outbreak that occurred in Oyster Bay last summer. He identified the cook as an asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid Fever, which, in layman’s terms, is a healthy-seeming person who passes a disease along without suffering any symptoms of said disease, and most likely without any knowledge of doing so. Dr. Soper has spent several months making his case to the Department of Health, and one source reports that there are many within that organization who are skeptical about the notion of a healthy carrier, despite the evidence.

It is Dr. Soper’s belief that the woman poses a life-threatening risk to all of those who eat the food she cooks, and has been the cause of Typhoid outbreaks in almost every prominent family she’s worked for going back at least five years, likely longer. The case of this human culture tube, as some would describe her, is attended to with more secrecy than any other this reporter has encountered in his career. It can only be assumed that authorities do not want to further embarrass those families who hired her and welcomed her into their homes. In response to a question on how rare this woman is to science, one doctor who asked to remain anonymous answered: We just don’t know.

The woman is rumored to be of fair complexion with a buxom figure and rosy cheeks. Whether she understands the charges piled against her is a matter of concern for the DOH. We’re talking about brand-new science, a senior health inspector explained. If what Dr. Soper posits is true, then she is the first healthy carrier of Typhoid Fever discovered in North America.

The butler of the family who was the cook’s most recent employer, and who gave his name only as Francis, claims that the daughter’s illness and death is nothing more than a tragic coincidence. He tells us that his own wife died of the illness several years back, and so have others he’s known who never had any contact with the accused cook. He claims further that the cook was healthy and showed absolutely no sign of illness. They took her like they would a common criminal, he said, showing visible signs of distress. And for what? I don’t believe what they’ve said about her. A female eyewitness to the cook’s capture stated that she fought with the strength of ten men, but they overpowered her.

This incredulity, authorities say, is a matter of education, and further denials from the woman may lead to her permanent quarantine. A nurse at Willard Parker, who asked that her name be withheld, says the accused woman at the center of this case is the picture of fury. She refuses meals, declines company, and walks back and forth like a caged animal. When asked if she believes what’s been alleged about the woman, the nurse replied, I myself don’t understand it, but I think the woman should try to listen to them. She’s not helping herself the way she is now.

Several leading doctors believe Typhoid bacilli are manufactured in the gallbladder, and a representative from the Department of Health states that if the accused woman does not submit to surgical removal of her gallbladder within the month, she will be transferred to North Brother Island in the East River, where she will remain segregated from society for an indefinite length of time.

When asked for his opinion of the case, Mr. Robert Abbott, a criminal attorney who practices in New York City, says that her situation strikes him as somewhat similar to that of Niall E. Joseph, whom Boston authorities have isolated upon suspicion of being a leper.


Mary wasn’t arrested right away. There were warnings. Requests. It all started with an air of courtesy, as if Dr. Soper believed that if he simply notified her of the danger lurking inside her body she would excuse herself from society. And after, when he and his colleagues resorted to far-less-polite means, they said it was her fault for raising a knife instead of listening, for not doing as she was told.

On a cold morning in March 1907, the Department of Health coordinated with the New York City Police Department and decided that Mary Mallon must be brought in. Dr. Soper suggested she might surrender more easily to a woman and sent a doctor named Josephine Baker to ring the bell of the Bowen residence, where Mary was employed, with four police officers standing behind her. They had not considered that even in the face of such authority her friends would lie for her, help hide her, insist that she could not be the person they were seeking. When they finally found her, she would not come peacefully, so each officer gripped her by a limb and carried her across the snow-covered yard while the rest of the domestic staff looked on. Once the police got her into their truck she started swinging and kicking, until finally they wedged her between their stout bodies and held her as well as they could, and Dr. Baker sat on her lap. Please, Miss Mallon, Dr. Baker said, over and over, and after a while, Please, Mary.

Mary assumed they were bringing her to the police station on East Sixty-Seventh, so when the truck continued downtown in a southeasterly direction along the same route she took from the Bowens’ to the rooms she shared with Alfred on East Thirty-Third, she thought for a hopeful moment that they might be dropping her at home. They had come to teach her a lesson, she prayed, and now they would set her free. She glimpsed street signs through the small barred window as the driver turned east at Forty-Second Street. They traveled south along Third Avenue until Sixteenth Street, and then east again with such urgency that she could feel the rhythm of the horses’ sleek heads pumping. The truck stopped just before the river, at the main entrance of a building Mary didn’t recognize, at the very end of a block so desolate that she felt the first stirring of panic that no one she knew would ever find her there.

Dr. Soper was waiting at the entrance to the Willard Parker Hospital, but instead of speaking to her, he just nodded to the pair of policemen who had her braced by her elbows. Up on the sixth floor, they hurried her along the corridor to the Typhoid Wing, where more doctors were waiting in a room with a gleaming mahogany table. One of her guards indicated where she should sit, and before she could properly look around the room, Dr. Soper told her and the rest of the people present that the newest theory of disease had to do with germs and bacteria, and although Mary appeared perfectly healthy, he had good reason to believe that she was, at that very moment, manufacturing Typhoid bacilli inside her body and passing along the disease to innocent victims. He accused her of making twenty-three people sick and being the cause of at least three deaths. Those are the cases we know of, he said. Who knows how many more we’ll find when we can investigate Miss Mallon’s full employment history? In front of five other men and Dr. Baker, Dr. Soper turned to her, finally, the source of all this trouble, as if waiting for her to say something. Mary felt like her mind had dropped straight out of her head like a stone.

George, Dr. Baker said, she hasn’t even been here fifteen minutes. Perhaps we could give her time to collect herself.

Back here in half an hour, then? one of the other doctors asked.

In the morning, gentlemen, said Dr. Baker. There is nothing that can’t wait until morning, is there?

No, Mary thought, this mistake will be corrected

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  • (4/5)
    Because there is no information from the author on exactly how she researched Mallon's life and circumstances, I can't get a handle on what is fact and what is author license. Soper and other authority figures are mere sketches, daubed with light menace. Mostly it's Mary's character, attitude and actions during her time as the now infamous Typhoid Mary. As written I didn't like her at first. She's willfully obstructive and deliberately puts others at risk. I felt bad about what happened to her, how it happened really, but she didn't feel responsibility. Not for the deaths and sickness she caused. She was tortured by the illness in others and did her absolute best to help, but she felt no responsibility for it and it was that willful ignorance that irritated me even though I know it wasn't her fault. That she couldn't help but feel she was innocent. The way they treated her (according to the book) was pretty appalling. Forcibly taken from her place of employment, put through batteries of humiliating tests and finally secluded on an island in the East River. The fact that she was without rights or power is terrible. Her impenetrable ignorance didn't help.In the book, Mary is absolutely defiant. She doesn't believe that she has killed anyone. She maintains she never had typhoid fever. She thinks germs are made up -"Do you know what a germ is?" they'd asked her, like she was a child sitting for an examination. Only later, back in her hut, [on North Brother] face-down on her cot, the rush of Hell Gate just twenty-five yards from her gable, would she try to make sense of what they told her about invisible microbes that floated in the air, that traveled up the nose and into the mouth. So many years later, it still sounded like a fairy tale meant for children, a little world too small for the human eye to see, or like religion, in that they were asking her to believe such a thing existed without giving her a chance to look at it, hold it, understand it." p 232Just why she thinks people are telling these lies about her and keeping her prisoner isn't clear, but she's adamant that she's never been sick and isn't making people die. The first incidents can be chalked up to ignorance and accident, but later when she actively hides her activities, decides baking is different from cooking and takes a cooking job under a false name; now it's criminal. She knows she shouldn't do it even if she doesn't believe she's causing disease.As a person, I grew to like her. Keane does a great job of showing her pitiable circumstances without making us pity her (apart from what the Dept. of Health puts her through). The part about seeing the beautiful blue hat, deciding she deserved such a beautiful hat, saving up and buying it is very touching and makes me feel so spoiled by my modern life, education and circumstances. But Mary is not going to knuckle under. She goes her own way and doesn't bow to social convention all that much. Through lies and subterfuge she gets her first jobs as a cook because as much as she wants it to, her talent alone won't do it. After she gains a reputation as a cook work comes easily and she's able to shoulder the burden of rent, food and other necessities for both she and Alfred, her long-time boyfriend. Their story is told without the trappings of sappy romance and is presented believably. Alfred loves her, but is basically a loser; unskilled and with a tendency to drink up his paycheck. But he doesn't beat her, patronize her, cheat or otherwise treat her badly and I think he did love her even if he did succumb to the lure of another home-life with Liza. The sneaking way he left her and her son was pretty craven though. Not content with taking his own money out of the house, he took the kid's too. Low.If one believes in Karma, he got his in the end. Severely burned in a fire, he ends his days as a junkie, hooked on morphine. By this time he and Mary have been reunited and she does her best to get his "medicine" even though there are new laws and regulations and it isn't as easy as it once was. Sad how many addicts were so innocently created.Writing-wise, Keane is descriptive without choking sentences down to meaninglessness. Dialog seems genuine and colloquial for the time. There are a lot of introspective moments with Mary and some of them do seem to put a drag on the proceedings. There's no sense of the chase since Mary is hardly aware of the authorities on her trail until they pop up in her kitchen. All we're left with is her sense of being trapped and then she fights or flees. Or sometimes both. There is a terrific sense of community with her neighbors and Mary is quite helpful in her own quiet way. She is shy of putting herself out there, but when push comes to shove she gets things done with as little compromise of her own standards as possible. I liked that about her. Maybe in the production version of this book, Keane will share more of her research and how she built Mary's character, actions and circumstances from real sources. I think that would be very helpful to the reader in understanding what really happened.
  • (5/5)
    I won this book for Early Reviewers and became captivated, especially when I learned the author is the same who wrote the book about Tom Thumb's wife (which I also won via ER). Keane brings to life a much-despised and much-maligned historical figure of whom many do not know, Typhoid Mary, and fleshes out her personal history so that readers can know the person behind the history. What I learned I did not like, and Mary, to me, remained an ignorant and careless person throughout her life. The last few lines of the book, I admit, did make me cry, a rather remarkable feat for such an odious woman.
  • (4/5)
    I was lucky enough to receive this as an Early Reviewer and as I started to read the first few pages of Mary Beth Keane's Fever I quickly became absorbed into the story of Mary Mallon, aka, Typhoid Mary. The first known asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever, Mary was an Irish immigrant who came to the United States when she was 14 and started working as a laundress. She eventually progressed to cook and ended up working for many wealthy families. Unfortunately, many of the people she cooked for died. You can tell the author has done extensive research on Mary and definitely humanizes the woman behind the name. You feel Mary's pain and isolation when she is quarantined on the remote North Brother Island for much of her life. (check out Keane's website for some fascinating historical facts & photos) The book also gives us a wonderful depiction of the immigrant experience in New York City in the early 20th century. I think this book would make a great selection for anyone who likes historical fiction and book clubs because there is so much to discuss, particularly, should Mary have lost her freedom?Keane was named one of the "5 under 35" authors t by the National Book Foundation in 2011 and this book definitely makes her an author that I will put on my reading list in the future!
  • (4/5)
    Fever is a fascinating novel that mixes historical fact and a fictional narrative to tell the tale of ‘Typhoid Mary’, the woman held responsible for several deadly outbreaks of the disease in the US around the turn of the nineteenth century.In 1907, Mary Mallon was arrested at the direction of the Department of Health. A forty year old, unmarried, Irish immigrant cook she stood accused of spreading Typhoid, a bacterial disease transmitted by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person, among the New York households she worked for over a period of several years. Her role was identified by Dr George Soper, a health researcher who discovered that Mary was the link between outbreaks, despite the fact she remained asymptomatic. Mary felt victimised by the state who tried to force her to have surgery to remove her gallbladder (thought at the time to be the host of the disease) and when that failed exiled her to North Brother Island, a Quarantine hospital in the middle of the East River where she eventually spent over 30 years in isolation until her death in 1938.There was little sympathy at the time for Mary Mallon, who caused the illness of as many as 50 persons, the death of three and likely more. Mary Beth Keane attempts to humanise Typhoid Mary in this novel and illustrate the possible thought process of the woman accused of willfully spreading deadly disease. I am familiar with only the basics of the case (see Wikipedia for an outline) so I am not sure where exactly Keane’s imagination merges with known facts but the author brings some balance to the prevailing view of the ‘evil’ woman who fought the Health Deapartment every step of the way, and later flaunted their decree she was never to cook again.Mary does prove to be a sympathetic character in Fever, even though she has a temper and a tendency to make poor decisions. Keane focuses on the period between Mary’s arrest and her second period of exile, sharing the details of Mary’s ordinary day to day life with her common law relationship with Alfred Breihof, a feckless drunk who was often unemployed. Personally I found the chapters focusing on her relationship, or following Alfred, a distraction from Mary’s story though it does add depth to her character. Still, I was far more intrigued by Mary’s reaction to her vilification as Typhoid Mary. It’s understandable that Mary would find it difficult to believe Dr Soper’s claims that she was the cause of Typhoid outbreaks, especially given it was a common disease whose cause and mode of transmission was unknown. Accused of creating a trail of illness and death Mary fought the medical establishment, dodging the Dr Soper, refusing testing and denying her culpability. It is also clear that Mary was victimised by the Health Department which took advantage of her status to impose unreasonable demands on her. Despite several larger outbreaks being traced to other asymptomatic carriers soon after Mary’s arrest, she was the only one arrested and forcibly exiled, mainly it seems because the other identified carriers were men with family and money, who could not be as easily bullied.Mary’s case raises interesting moral and ethical questions about public health and safety, asking for example, if the rights of one individual outweigh the safety of many. It is also a fascinating glimpse of medical knowledge and sanitation in the early 1900′s. Remarkably most of the cases of Typhoid fever could have been avoided with the simple act of hand washing.Fever is also a vivid portrait of New York City at the turn of the century and particularly of the lifestyle of the ‘servant’ class. From streets heaped with garbage to rooms crowded with tenants, basic hygiene and sanitation was practically non existent, encouraging diseases that could have been easily eradicated.The provocative tale of an enigmatic historical figure, Fever is a compelling read. Keane skillfully infuses historical fact with imagined personality to creating an entertaining and intriguing tale which should appeal to a wide audience.
  • (5/5)
    March is Women's History Month and St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17th, and Mary Beth Keane's novel Fever, a fictional story about the infamous Typhoid Mary, an Irish immigrant who was blamed for the deaths of over twenty people from typhoid in New York City in the early years of the twentieth century is a perfect read for both.Keane did a great deal of research on Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant who became a cook for wealthy families in New York City. Her website contains an amazing time line of events with photos and information about the real Mary Mallon. Mary is an intriguing woman; she lives with, but does not marry, Alfred Briehof, a German immigrant with a drinking problem. Mary and Alfred love each other deeply, but Alfred's drinking and inability to hold a job creates friction in their relationship.When several members of a family whom Mary cooks for die from typhoid fever, Dr. George Soper investigates and is determined to find Mary, whom he believes may be a carrier of the disease even though she exhibits no symptoms of typhoid herself. He finds Mary working for another family, and she is detained in an exciting passage of the novel.Mary ends up quarantined on North Brother Island, where she is forced to live alone, even though she herself is not ill. The isolation wears greatly on her, and she despises Dr. Soper. Her only friend is a male gardener who brings her meals and newspapers, and has a bit of a crush on her.But Mary misses her old life, and especially Alfred. She wonders how he is doing, who is caring for him and if she will ever be able to leave the island. She finds a lawyer willing to represent her and he works to get Mary released, all while Mary becomes tabloid headlines.This is a fascinating novel, mostly because Mary is a remarkable character. She is tough, imposing and independent and her unconventional life with Alfred and her manner made her suspect in many people's eyes."If she had been the type of woman who saved her money, or gave it to someone who needed it more, a neighbor with children, perhaps, or the church, if she'd been a married woman who handed every dollar over to her husband, or better yet a married woman who didn't have earnings because she was taken up with the care of her own home, she'd never be in the situation she was in. She couldn't prove it, but it was the truth nonetheless."The best historical fiction immerses the reader into a different place and time, and Fever does just that. You can see, smell, hear and taste New York City at the turn of the century. You get such a feel for immigrant life, and if you enjoy food, the descriptions of Mary's cooking will indulge your senses."Back in her own silent kitchen, she cleared off the cluttered table and used it to prep. She filled the pot with water. She rubbed the small pork tenderloin she'd purchased half-price with plenty of salt and pepper, a bit of nutmeg she grated, a pinch of cinnamon, a dash of sugar, a teaspoon's worth of onion powder she measured with cupped hand."Mary Mallon's story is so compelling and Keane tells it beautifully. It's the perfect novel to kick off Women's History Month.
  • (4/5)
    The early twentieth century saw many medical discoveries and advances. It was a learning process… slow and riddled with mistakes and the unknown. One of the issues concerning the medical community was the person at large who was healthy and unknowingly carried a disease – like typhoid - which spread to others. The story of "Fever: A Novel" is that of Mary Mallon. Typhoid Mary. An excellent and interesting account of a woman living on the edge in New York City is based on research and fleshed out to portray a life of struggle, strength, love, trauma, and abuse at the hand of the Department of Health. Mary Mallon had a gift for cooking and loved the work which paid well and gave her a sense of value. However, many suspicious cases of typhoid outbreaks were traced back to her, directly, through the preparation of food by her and consumed by her clients.This was a new theory. It was frightening and incredible. Mary was caught in the middle of the evolving medical controversy. Author Mary Beth Keane evokes the emotions and crisis in the life of a woman on the run. Mary’s life of poverty in NYC is portrayed in detail, colored with the hard decisions and actions of a woman alone. Enlightening, heart-breaking, and engaging read… recommended.
  • (5/5)
    Reading about Mary Mallon, you feel the injustice that was done to her. Yet, if it were my child or relative that died, I certainly would feel differently.She was stripped of her life, literally, and put on an island in the Hudson River, North Brother Island. Left with very little contact, to the outside world. How could they do that to her? Written up in the press as Germ Lady, Typhoid Mary. Yet a dairyman who also is a carrier of the germ, is allowed to stay at home. He killed over a hundred people. Yes, Mary is credited with about 20 deaths.Mary is a spunky Irish immigrant, and pulls herself up from being a laundress to an exceptional cook. She wins raves from everyone who tastes her food. It is Mary's downfall. It is her passion, and yet people she has loved die.Mary Beth Keane has brought Mary Mallon to life, we meet the love of her life Alfred. Mary is content to live as Alfred's mistress, back in the late 1800's. That in itself had to be difficult. She was a woman before her time, living on the edge. Yet the people who loved Mary, really loved Mary, for who she was to them.When Mary, after three years, is finally let to return to her life, she is admonished to never take a job as a cook. Her passion is taken from her! Can she ever completely give cooking up? Her reasoning says that she has cooked for so many, and none of her friends have gotten sick?You are going to find this to be a very compelling historical read, and not going to put it down, until it is done. You will root for Mary, even though, we find her breaking the law?? What law? Don't miss this excellent story.I received this book through the Publisher Scribner, and Net Galley, and was not required to give a positive review.
  • (5/5)
    Mary Mallon, a hard working Irish immigrant, found work in the kitchens of the wealthy and famous. However, everywhere she went, people contracted typhoid fever. A healthy woman, Mary didn't understand how she could be spreading the disease. The Department of Health arrested her and sent her to live on a consumption island. The only healthy, patient on the island, Mary fought her captures. After three years, an attorney won her freedom and she found herself signing an affidavit that she would never cook again. Slowly, she found herself cooking for friends and neighbors, until she took a job at a bakery and then a maternity hospital.This was a fascinating book. It was well written and engaging. I felt bad for Mary, who was unable to understand that she was a healthier carrier of typhoid. I also felt bad for the unwitting victims she passed the disease onto. This is an interesting slice of history, one that really shows the realities of immigration and hard work in a time where disease was misunderstood. Overall, highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    Beautifully written and very evocative historical novel of Mary Mallon, who infected over 25 people as an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever in the early 1900s. Written almost as a documentary, the book captures everyday life in New York City at that time. Wonderful.
  • (4/5)
    Mary Beth Keane's new novel, Fever, is the story of Mary Mallon, otherwise known as Typhoid Mary. Mallon, an Irish Immigrant who worked as a domestic, cooking for wealthy families in early twentieth century New York, was the first known asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid Fever. Charged with spreading Typhoid through food to the people she cooked for, Mary was forcibly removed from her home and isolated on a small island off New York. Mary's protests of innocence were ignored, even when another carrier, a dairyman, was discovered and allowed to remain with his family as long as he promised to give up handling milk. Mary, being a strong-willed female and living with a man she was not married to, got very little sympathy from the doctors who kept her prisoner on the island for three years. Besides beautifully capturing the setting, the book skillfully describes Mary's frustrations, her disbelief of the doctors' theories, her legal battle, her friendships, and the relationship with her alcoholic lover. After reading The Walking People, I had high expectations for Keane's second novel and I was not disappointed. Fever is a fascinating read.
  • (4/5)
    Ms. Keane puts a face and a story to the notorious "Typhoid Mary" in this historical novel. I found myself by turns admiring Mary and feeling frustrated both at her and for her. The picture of the early 1900's in New York City was interesting - how things were changing, how science was illuminating things that before had been a mystery. Above all, this novel brought Mary alive and gave her story context.
  • (4/5)
    In this historical novel, author Mary B. Keane introduces us to Mary Mallon better known to history as Typhoid Mary. It is the heartbreaking story of a poor Irish immigrant who, through no fault of her own, is discovered to be an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid. She was a talented cook who cooked for the wealthiest and most prestigious families in the New York area. She doesn't believe that she is spreading typhoid and often cares for those who fall sick. She is arrested and isolated on an island off of Manhattan where there is a hospital for the dying. We also meet the man with whom she spends most of her life, a German immigrant named Alfred. They love each other, but he is an alcoholic and, after being in a horrific fire, becomes a drug addict. Saddest of all is that toward the end of her life, Mary finally begins to realize that she was a typhoid carrier. You really are rooting for Mary, however, hers was not a happy life. The book was well written and engaging and I would recommend it.
  • (4/5)
    Fever is a very good historical novel of a woman who was loved and hated throughout her adult life. Mary Mallon was a hard-working Irish immigrant living in the crowded working class sections of New York at the turn of the 20th Century. Trained by her grandmother to be a housekeeper, Mary did domestic work for wealthy families in the New York area. On occasion, she was asked to fill in for cooks and discovered a passion for creating dishes that were pleasing to her employers. From cleaning mansions and doing laundry, Mary became a good cook sought out by the upper class families.On the ship from Ireland to New York and in her domestic and cooking placements by a temporary worker business in the United States, Mary recalled incidents in which people near her became ill, and typhoid fever seemed to be a disease that respected no class barriers. Mary was a kind person who risked her own health to nurse sick people close to her at her work sites. Her live-in partner, Alfred, did not develop symptoms of typhoid fever. She did not realize that she was a carrier of typhoid “germs” and was infecting members of the families who employed her. The Department of Health was very concerned about growing incidence of typhoid fever, and a “medical engineer” by the name of Dr. Soper was an aggressive investigator with the agency. He made the connection with Mary’s work history and the deaths of her clients and took steps to have her quarantined at North Brother Island in the East River where at first she was housed with tuberculosis patients. Mary’s story was picked up by a New York newspaper, and a reporter nicknamed her, “Typhoid Mary.”The story of Typhoid Mary is very interesting with a focus on the moral dilemma plaguing Mary Mallon for her entire life. She suspected before the Department of Health investigation there was an unlikely coincidence between her activity and the illness and death of people she contacted. When she learned that typhoid fever was spread through improper hand washing after defecating, Mary was very careful in her personal hygiene and thoroughly cooking all foods in order to destroy the typhoid germs. But, it was very difficult to admit to herself that she was the cause of infection and death of more than ten people. Mary’s relationship with her alcoholic mate Alfred and her isolation on North Brother Island are creatively portrayed by Mary Beth Keane. Ms. Keane’s style of writing is consistently realistic and straight forward with interesting descriptions of the physical and social conditions in New York in the last of the 1800s and the early part of the 1900s.
  • (4/5)
    We've all heard the term "Tyhoid Mary," but truth told, I didn't know the real story behind it. Mary Mallon is an Irish immigrant in New York City at the turn of the century, when little was understood about bacteria and health standards. This novel is an insightful study of those times and reads like a true account. of how being a carrier of the dreaded sickness impacted her life.
  • (5/5)
    One of my favorite things about this book, was the author's ability to take someone who has often been sneered at in the press and completely humanize her. I have heard the term Typhoid Mary before, but I really was not familiar with the background story of Mary Mallon. This fictionalized version of the book was brilliant.Mary Mallon is an Irish immigrant working as a cook in the early nineteen hundreds. Working in the upper class households of that time, she leaves behind a trail of disease. Unbeknownst to Mary, she is a asymptomatic carrier of typhoid. Unfortunately, she spreads sickness through her cooking, something that she makes her living at and loves to do.In order to keep New York's citizens safe, Mary is forced into isolation for 3 years on North Brother Island. She eventually gains her freedom and is allowed to leave, but under the strict order that she is continually tested and is never to cook again. Mary eventually returns to the kitchens and later learns the dire consequences of her actions.The book was such a great read, because the author did a wonderful job of capturing what may have been Mary's thoughts throughout this ordeal. Why would she stop cooking; something she loved and was great at, because some medical engineers said she spreads disease? Mary never once was sick. Many of her employers and friends that she cooked for never developed typhoid. The story perfectly captured the inner struggle that Mary most likely was experiencing at the time. Beautifully written and a very satisfying read. I highly recommend this book! I received this book as part of the Librarything Early Reviewers.
  • (5/5)
    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 StarsI received this book from Netgalley and the publisher Simon & Schuster
  • (4/5)
    Typhoid Mary. We've all heard of her, but how many of us really know her story? An Irish immigrant with a talent for cooking who, unfortunately, is also a healthy carrier of Typhoid fever, spreading the illness through the food she cooks for the wealthy families she works for.It was difficult to feel sympathy for Mary in the beginning of this fictionalized account of her life, as she was incredibly stubborn and refused to believe she could be making people sick. I was frustrated with her inability to understand what she had been doing, and the anger she displayed in the face of her circumstances. Her unreasonableness (which was really denial and panic and fear) led her to both be ostracized in the press, and forcibly removed to an island in the Hudson River to live in isolation, and prevent her from further infecting people.With the help of a young lawyer, Mary finally wins her release, on the condition that she promise to never cook for anyone again. It is here that I begin to feel more sympathy for Mary. The one thing that she is talented at doing, cooking, is the one thing she should never do again. She tries to do other things, but circumstances seem to always lead her back to baking and cooking once again, and Mary becomes the queen of denial, telling herself that this couldn't possibly hurt anyone, or that baking is not the same is cooking. You get the sense that deep down inside, Mary knows she shouldn't be doing what she is doing, but she's good at pulling the wool over her own eyes. Mary's life is not comfortable - she is a working-class woman in early-20th century New York, and the author does a tremendous job of describing what that was like. In addition to all this, Mary's relationship with her companion, Alfred, was strained by her time on the island. She has difficulties finding a place to live. It seems that this one thing, her status as a carrier of the fever, is slowly breaking apart her life in all areas.My only issue with this book was the way the author jumped from past to present and back again. It was sometimes difficult to keep track of where in time we were. But overall, I enjoyed this novel, and would recommend it if you enjoy historical fiction.
  • (5/5)
    So interesting! Highly recommend!I remember vaguely hearing of 'Typhoid Mary', but never really knew her story.Mary Beth Keane does an amazing job of combining fact and fiction, bringing Mary Mallon's story to life. I was a little nervous that the facts wouldn't be there, but they were.I was fascinated by the story of Mary Mallon. Her life on North Brother Island, in NYC, where she was quarantined until her death in 1938. I had never even realized such an island existed. I researched it a bit more, after reading this book. Very interesting.I had written some notes as I was reading, but unfortunately did not save them in time, before my access was gone from the ARC. I definetely will be purchasing this one for my bookshelf, and will be reading it again! I can always add more thoughts again later.
  • (4/5)
    Fever is the fictionalized account of the life of "Typhoid Mary", and what a fantastic account it is. I knew of Mary Mallon. I'd heard of "Typhoid Mary". As it turns out, all I knew of her story was her awful nickname. I had no understanding of her life or what happened to her.

    Mary was arrested, treated like garbage, and made to live in isolation on a quarantine island. She really didn't understand what they were saying about her. She'd never been sick a day in her life. How could she be spreading a disease?

    There was little understanding about the spread of disease in the early 1900's compared with what we know today. The things the doctors and health officials were saying sounded like some sort of magic to Mary Mallon. I can understood why she went back to cooking after being forbidden to do so.

    "Typhoid Mary" has been painted by history as an evil woman. This book made me realize that there was much more to her story.

    Fever is a sensational book about an intriguing woman. I couldn't stop reading it and I can't recommend it highly enough.
  • (4/5)
    I didn't know the history behind the woman nicknamed "Typhoid Mary" at all before reading this book. I thought the book was well written and informative while also being an entertaining read. I was shocked at the lengths the public health department of New York went to to quarantine Mary and the terrible way she was treated throughout her life. A good read, in my opinion.
  • (5/5)
    Historical fiction, without a doubt, can bring history to life, erases the dull facts and fleshes out a story in a way that makes you keep reading, and when you finish that book, seek out more information. Fever by Mary Beth Keane tells the story of "Typhoid Mary" Mary Mallon in a way that the reader is enthralled with the tale of this poor woman. It is sympathetic and sensitive, and you will never think about Typhoid Mary the same way again.Before reading this book, I was not familiar with the facts of Mary Mallon's life. I knew only of her notoriety as a pariah, and have even described myself as "Typhoid Mary" when I had the flu last winter. I wasn't sure what that meant, only that this woman was accused of killing people with her cooking, spreading her typhoid about recklessly.Mary Mallon immigrated to the United States from Ireland as a young girl. Always talented in the kitchen, she soon moved up from laundress to cook. And unknowingly, left in her wake sickness, disease, and death. Mary was a proud woman, keeping her appearance neat and clean, confident of her abilities, sure of her talents. She was healthy and strong, slim and attractive. Then one day her turned upside down. Dragged from her world, literally. Taken by force by doctors who said her crime was spreading fever from her kitchens. How could it be her? She was healthy, never sick, could run up and down stairs and lift heavy pots from the stove without a problem, so how could she be causing illness? The doctors explained about germs, but this all seemed like magic to Mary.They took her away, held her in isolation against her will, without even a trial or a lawyer.Without Mary being able to tell her friends and loved ones where she was going. She was just gone. They said they couldn't let her go, that she was a menace to the health and well being of society as a healthy carrier of typhoid. It was barbaric and an abuse of power. She was the first healthy carrier found, but she wasn't the last or the only one. But only Mary was not able to be free. Could it have been that she was a woman, Irish, a member of domestic service, and living with a man without the benefits of marriage that she was the only one to suffer this way? I think so. They built her a little cottage on North Brother Island, with a cot and an area to make tea, but she was not allowed to cook for herself or for others, especially for others. She had to provide stool and urine samples weekly. She was not allowed to contact anyone.Keane's portrayal of Mary's suffering dignity, loneliness, humiliation, and confusion at what was happening was heartbreaking and dramatic. I could easily imagine what it would have been like in Mary's shoes. How scary it would have been. Yet she also describes Mary as intelligent, strong willed and determined to get off that island, taking matters into her own hands. She found a lawyer, paid for her own testing. Eventually she was allowed to leave the island, but on the condition that she never cooked again. You can imagine though, how at that time, being unable to use your most profitable skill would be frustrating. After working as a laundress, Mary found work as a cook again. This time at a hospital. And wouldn't you know it, a few weeks after she began, people started getting sick.I couldn't put this book down. I was drawn into the story very easily, from the very first page. Keane's depiction of Mary Mallon made we want to read this book, and want to read more about her, the infamous Typhoid Mary. You will never think about her the same way again, after reading this book.
  • (2/5)
    This book about Typhoid Mary was interesting. It was especially so since I had typhoid fever as a child. However, the author spent too much time on Mary's hapless boyfriend.
  • (4/5)
    Typhoid Mary's story told in an engrossing page turner. Mary Beth Keane's well written book on the life of Mary Mallon and the turn of the century epidemic in NY known as typhoid fever is also a story of the depth of medical knowledge of the day - alarmingly primitive it seems and the class structure and prejudices of the times.
  • (4/5)
    Where I got the book: from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.This is the story of Mary Mallon, aka the Typhoid Mary who was accused of willfully passing typhoid to New York families for whom she cooked in the early decades of the 1900s. It's a set-the-record-straight story, told essentially from Mary's point of view, and therefore sympathetic to her.Pretty interesting story, on the whole. Keane tries to encapsulate Mary's character in the account, and that in fact made it a bit harder for me to feel for her, as she's a fairly hardbitten sort to whom life is not particularly kind. But by the end I did sympathize: Mary Mallon was not the only typhoid carrier in New York, but she was the first to be isolated and therefore bore the brunt of the attention from the authorities and the media. The rest were basically left to go about their business because the authorities realized the problem was beyond their control, while Mary ended up as a sort of lab rat on a fever island. Keane does a good job of putting us in Mary's shoes. You can see how Mary never really understood why she was made the scapegoat, and how passionate she was about cooking, the only job she was not supposed to do. In her place, would we have acted differently? I'm glad I got the chance to take a closer look at this much-reviled figure.
  • (4/5)
    Keane's research for this novel was not only impressive, she also demonstrated the ability to translate those details into a very readable and enjoyable work. The legend of "Typhoid Mary" was about the extent of my knowledge on the Typhoid epidemics from the early 20th century. This work, although a fictionalized version, did a great job of exploring the bigger picture of what was happening during this time and more specifically addressing what made her so interesting to both the public and researchers. While I enjoyed the book overall, through the first half of it, I found myself wishing the author would have started a little earlier in the narrative. As the book begins, Mary has already been identified as an asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid, and the first half deals primarily with her arrest and immediate aftermath. Eventually Keane does start filling in the back story, albeit in a slightly awkward manner, so the full history is eventually unveiled. Unfortunately, a portion of this history includes Typhoid Mary's boyfriend - a story line which seemed superfluous at best. Admittedly, without this addition, the result would have been significantly shorter. But I am a strong believer in quality over quantity, and a shorter/tighter story would have made for a stronger work.Overall, however, Keane has an excellent writing style and the sheer readability of her text kept me going.
  • (4/5)
    FEVER by Mary Beth Keane breathes life into the too-often caricatured personality of Mary Mallon, better known (unfortunately) as Typhoid Mary. In fleshing out Mary Mallon’s harsh youth in Ireland, tenacious present in New York City and isolated future on North Brother Island in the East River, Keane replaces the “germ woman” of cartoons with a finely drawn, astonishingly healthy female cook whose talents in the kitchen netted her employment with such upper-crust families as the Fricks. Mary’s reluctance to cooperate with sanitary engineer Dr. Soper’s demands for isolation and testing makes perfect sense. She’s cooked for many people who did not become ill. Keane raises concerns with the Department of Health’s coercive handling of Mary Mallon. There were other asymptomatic carriers (who had also caused deaths from typhoid) known to the department who were allowed to remain in the community. Mary Beth Keane makes a daring choice to write the story such a well-known historical figure . We all know how it’s going to end; why bother reading? Because you will get to know Mary Mallon as a real human being, full of contradictions and hopes and disappointments; a person easily dismissed because of her gender, race and class. The author seems very much at home in early 20th century New York City, somehow giving it a contemporary feel while grounded firmly in the details of the past. Keane’s lyric style finesses every scene and shows to great advantage in Mary Mallon’s self talk. You can almost hear the Irish accent coming off the page.7.5 out of 10 Highly recommended to all
  • (4/5)
    Typhoid Mary seems to be one of the historical nicknames we come across at one point or another, usually in a brief mention, and forget about soon after. Though I teach history, I had heard very little of Mary Mallon's story prior to reading Mary Beth Keane's Fever.

    In what is quickly becoming a popular genre, Keane takes the bits of what was known about Mary Mallon and pieces together a fictionalized biography of her life as one of the first healthy carriers of Typhoid fever. Mary spent her life and livelihood cooking for others until the Department of Health quarantined, and eventually charged her, for intentionally spreading the disease through the food she served.

    While it is difficult to get a true sense of everyone's intentions from what has been left behind by history, Keane does a lovely job of writing a novel that is sympathetic to Mallon's side without making her out to be completely innocent. Instead, she is written as a strong, modern character who is able to handle the unimaginable situations she is thrown in without blame or self-pity.

    Unfortunately, I felt the pacing was off a bit in the second half of Fever. What was fascinating and page-turning through the beginning became a little too cyclical as Mallon's decisions became repetitive. While I know Keane was following the character's historical choices, I think the story would have benefited from focusing on a shorter time frame, particularly around the trial.

    Still, I think it's a very interesting read that is worth picking up. Keane writes her Typhoid Mary as a likable, fierce woman who we won't be quick to forget.
  • (4/5)
    Few people recognize the name Mary Mallon, but virtually everyone knows of “Typhoid Mary.” This is her story.

    Keane does a fine job with this work of historical fiction. Her Mary is at once sympathetic and infuriating. A strong-willed Irish immigrant who takes great pride in her cooking – with good reason – and who needs to work to support herself and her man, Mary feels attacked and persecuted when she’s told she is making her employers sick and must stop cooking for a living.

    Mary is a woman trapped by biology, by society, by her own personality and desires. She was the first asymptomatic carrier of the typhus bacillus who was identified, but she was by no means the last. And she was the only one who was subjected to isolation for years on end. Keane explores what this enforced “arrest” and quarantine did to Mary. She begins defiant, not believing what she is told, questioning their authority to detain her and demand constant samples for testing. She sinks into despair as she is kept from contacting her friends or common-law husband, Alfred. She is depressed when letters from neighbors dwindle to nothing, and feels she’s been forgotten. She refuses small kindnesses because she does not want to be pitied; she has always worked and earned good wages to afford the nice things she owned, why should she take someone else’s cast-offs now?

    Keane gives us a complex character facing an unimaginable scenario. While there were times I wanted to give her a good thrashing, I found myself mostly sympathetic to Mary’s plight. Someone I’ve always seen as a nefarious villain has now become, for me, a woman who was wronged by society. I could not help but think of the recent Ebola scares in the U.S. and how our society reacted – we imposed quarantines on those exposed, and some of them, just like Mary, refused to follow those restrictions.
  • (4/5)
    3.5 ★ Fever by Mary Beth KeaneMary Mallon (September 23, 1869 – November 11, 1938)(Typhoid Mary), was the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen found in typhoid fever.historical fiction-----------------------------I should have read a nonfictional account of Mary before a fictional one.It's hard for me to be sympathetic with her when she seemed to understandthe "medical engineer", after finding a trail of disease wherever she cooked.After her confinement, she was released under the condition that she never work as a cook again.Fortunately, epidemiology pursued her relentlessly when a trail of typhus appeared.She had defied the edict.When cornered, after a series of new settings including a bakery, a chef service from her home and of all things a primary chef in a maternity hospital...she was informed:"The first time carelessness.....the second time criminal."Mary Beth Keane has depicted her as fiercely compelling, dramatic, vexing, sympathetic, uncompromising and unforgettable .(book jacket)She definitely had the impact the author hoped to achieve.Now, I'm off to read an actual account.”
  • (3/5)
    I would think that it is a little difficult to write a fictional account of a real event. The author has to make many assumptions and take some literary license with thoughts, feelings, etc. when it comes to fictionalizing an historical figure. I have a feeling that Keane did a pretty good job here with Mary Mallon, better known as "Typhoid Mary".

    I found Mary to be an extremely likable character. At first, that is. She was no nonsense, hard-working, respectful, and very talented at her occupation as a cook to the affluent. However, once it was obvious that she was a carrier of typhoid fever, she absolutely refused to believe that it may be true, and do what the authorities asked of her.

    With that said, the book was very easy to read, and compelling. It was factual, as far as Keane could research, and the characters were very realistic. I had no sympathy for Mary, despite the author trying to convey a sense of sympathy in her writing. Nor did I have any sympathy for Mary's partner, Alfred. As a matter of fact, I came to the point of thinking that they deserved one another.

    I enjoyed the book, recommend it, and will read more by this author.