(Read in January 2015)
Oh, Jodi Picoult, I may have to end our author-reader relationship.
We used to have a serious give and take. You would give me three-dimensional, engrossing, well-researched stories and I would take (and read) them everywhere. Ever since my best friend Victoria recommended I read My Sister’s Keeper almost 7 years ago, I have enthusiastically made my way through your books. Nineteen Minutes? Horrifying and emotionally-leveling. Change of Heart? I still am floored by the ending years and years later. Perfect Match? I will never forget where I was when I finished this book–the back cafeteria in my high school.
We have been through more than a few plot twists. You created characters so deeply flawed and begrudgingly likeable that they demanded at least a surface level of empathy. Your multi-person narration–which I rejected at first–has become one of my favorite ways to enter fictional world. Our relationship was long and wonderful and imaginative, but I think that relationship is coming to an end.
I am finally admitting that things have not been great for a long time. I didn’t love House Rules (2010), Sing You Home (2011) was blah and The Storyteller (2013) left me guffawing, but your newest, Leaving Time may be the thing that finally breaks us.
Don’t get me wrong. This book was engaging enough (I finished it in less than 5 days) as most (if not all) Jodi Picoult books are. However, this book was a complete mess. It felt more like a draft than a polished published book. Sometimes I would have to reread passages three or four times just to match the pronouns to the characters, or ground myself into the paragraph.
The plot was fine. A teenager named Jenna is looking for her mother Alice who disappeared 10 years ago after a tragic night at an elephant sanctuary. To help her, Jenna enlists Serenity Jones, a disgraced psychic with a knack for finding missing people, and Virgil Stanhope, an alcoholic private investigator who worked on her mother’s original case. Perhaps the most interesting thing was all of the anecdotes and research-heavy passages about elephants and memory and empathy and mothering. Honestly, I wish Jodi Picoult had decided to write something non-fiction about elephants or even just simplified her plot. The book was too heavy-handed, too reliant on “the twist” (which left a sour taste in my mouth), and too clunky. The writing about elephants was beautiful and raw and original–it was the lightness and beauty the book needed.
The twist–the classic Picoult twist–was weird even for her. Honestly, this was another one of those novels I went into knowing that there was a huge twist, which is what kept me reading. However, the twist did not pay off. I had a similar experience with We Were Liars (aka a book that kept me reading in spite in the lackluster writing and blah overall reading experience). If I wasn’t morbidly curious with how Closing Time (and We Were Liars) ended or had not known there was a twist, I would not have finished either book. It was almost like being held hostage by my curiosity.
“I kissed him in the shade of the baobab tree, with its upside-down roots in the air, with its bark that could be cut a hundred times and still heal itself.”
“Doctors will tell you that it wasn’t medically possible, that it was too early in the pregnancy. But at that moment, I felt the butterfly flutter of our baby, as if the electricity between us was all she needed to combust into life.”
“…there is a romance to Africa. You can see a sunset and believe you have witnessed the hand of God. You watch the slow lope of a lioness and forget to breathe. You marvel at the tripod of a giraffe bent to water…In Africa, in the midday heat, you can see blisters in the atmosphere. When you are in Africa, you feel primordial, rocked in the cradle of the world.”
I think I’ve just outgrown Jodi Picoult and her writing style. It’s always been formulaic writing, but it’s a formula that is no longer working for me. There were moments of clarity and exciting prose, but they were few and far between. Leaving Time seems a fitting name for this novel since it’s probably about time I leave Jodi Picoult’s reading club.
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Have you read Jodi Picoult’s Leaving Time? What did you think of it? What did you enjoy/not enjoy about the book?