Handle with Care

September 22, 2009 at 8:30 am (Reads) ()

handleHandle with Care by Jodi Picoult

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No, Jodi Picoult isn’t someone I would normally read, but I saw a comment by Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly several months ago which read, in part:

Somebody who’s a terrific writer who’s been very, very successful is Jodi Picoult.

It caught my attention enough to make me remember her name, which is probably exactly what the comment was meant to do.  So, when this one came through the library, I figured I would check it out.

The premise is certainly intriguing: Willow O’Keefe is a five year-old girl with osteogenesis imperfecta, or “Brittle Bone Disease,” which is the same condition that Samuel L. Jackson’s character had in Unbreakable.  Her family has dealt with her condition for those five years, paying out lots of money that the insurance doesn’t cover.  On the brink of financial ruin, the parents decide to file a wrongful birth suit against their obstetrician, saying that she didn’t diagnose the problem early enough for them to decide whether or not to abort the pregnancy.  Of course, everyone in the family loves Willow, and to make matters even more complicated, the obstetrician in question is the mother’s best friend.

Of course, the melodrama doesn’t end there.  The prosecuting attorney in the case is herself an adopted child, so there’s the issue of her being involved with a lawsuit which is stating, essentially, that the mother would have aborted her yongest daughter if she’s had more information about the pregnancy, and the attorney is someone who is glad her birth mother didn’t make that same decision.  And to pile more drama onto the situation, one of the jurors on the case has to excuse herself because she turns out to be the attorney’s birth mother!  DUN DUN DUUUU-UUUUN…

Do you get the feeling that I think the whole thing is a little overwrought?  Good.  Because I did.  For the sake of fiction, and for the sake of the plot, it’s OK for some coincidences to take place, but there were so dang many of them in the book that I reached the point where I wanted to yell, “Enough already!”  It strained believability, and as much as I was into the story, I felt like the author was overreaching to make her point.

Apparently, the author has a habit of taking a legal dilemma and making it “real” in her fiction, by showing the real world effects of said dilemma and making it more human.  I think she did this very well, because the heart of this novel is a family falling apart.  The proceedings set husband against wife, friend against friend, and sister against parents.  Everyone’s motivations are clear, make sense, and are believable, but the entire setup seemed so contrived and strained to me.  It was easy to understand the characters and the decisions they made, but despite that, the characterization wasn’t vivid.  They just seemed there to move the plot along.

The book is compelling, interesting, and will make you think about the issues behind the story.  So long as you can get past the contrivances that make the story move along, you should be fine.  I wonder, though, if her other books are the better place to start.

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