Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Handle With Care" by Jodi Picoult

I've seen Jodi Picoult's books all over the place but I'd never read one before. For some reason I figured her novels were in the same league as Sophie Kinsella and Lauren Weisberger, authors of "chick lit" books which tend to make me feel guilty for wasting time and killing brain cells by reading them. But my friend who loaned this book to me promised Picoult's books were not shallow like I'd assumed. She told me a little bit about the plot, mentioning that it was about a little girl with osteogenesis imperfecta, the "brittle bone disease" that Samuel L. Jackson had in the movie Unbreakable.

The very day I started reading this book I found myself in its grip. It didn't take long to reach "critical mass." My heart went out to this family (until I would think, they're not even real... but then I would think, there are real families out there just like this). It was like they were stuck in a nightmare, and every time I thought it couldn't get any worse, it did. And I was stuck right there with them.

For some reason, out of the mix of narrators, I identified the most with Charlotte, which was somewhat difficult for me because she was the character I sympathized with the least. No, that may be the wrong choice of words. I felt great sympathy for what she had to deal with as the mother of a severely physically disabled child, but I disagreed with her method of dealing with her situation (which amounted to sacrificing every important relationship in her life, some irreparably, for financial security).

Speaking of how I felt about the way Charlotte dealt with her situation as the mother of a child with a physical disability (the lawsuit), I must say that I scorned all three lawsuits that were part of the plot (Sean suing Ford for his back problems, Sean attempting to sue multiple parties because of the embarrassment they suffered in Florida, and Charlotte suing for "wrongful birth"). I can understand a lawsuit as a means to recoup financial losses, but it rankles with me when monetary damages are paid for amorphous ideas like "pain and suffering." Sure, this may be a case where my tune would quickly change if I became a victim, but that's just my point. In America these days people are far too quick to see themselves as a victim, far too slow to take any personal responsibility, and far too litigious.

Only in Marin's closing argument did Charlotte's lawsuit seem slightly acceptable. It was the way she ended her statement to the jury by telling them, "Today you have the opportunity to make a choice the way Charlotte O'Keefe never did." It still didn't change my belief that everyone in the book would have been better off if the O'Keefes had never set foot in a lawyer's office, but at least it made the wrongful birth lawsuit a little bit palatable.

I can't explain why, but I regained respect for Charlotte because she did not cash the settlement check. This was heartbreaking, because she lost so much to get that check, and then she didn't even use it. But somehow it seemed to show that she had learned her lesson, had learned what was truly important to her in life, and had rearranged her priorities to reflect that.

As I read, I also thought the kiss between Piper and Sean didn't belong in the story. I couldn't see what it added to the plot, what I was supposed to learn from it, or how it developed either of their characters. Looking back, though, it was obviously the catalyst for Sean to realize how much he loved Charlotte and wanted to repair their marriage. I can't come up with a scenario that would work any better. Maybe that's why I just read the books instead of writing them.

I am still SO MAD about the end. I can't believe the author killed off Willow. I really feel like that was completely unnecessary. About halfway through the book, for some inexplicable reason I felt certain Picoult would pull off a happy ending, though I had no idea how she would manage it and make it believable. But she didn't.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20 but the front cover of this book seems like a spoiler. Not the little girl half seen, but the dark blot which is probably a partially submerged branch but that made me think, when Charlotte took Willow out on the ice on the computer desk chair, something bad was going to happen, though it didn't... that time.

Will I read another Picoult book? I don't know. Right up until Willow's chapter at the end I would have said a resounding yes. Picoult is definitely a skilled writer. But the entire book was harrowing enough. Willow's death at the end was just too much for me.


Aloha Rob said...

My wife is really into Jodi.

Kathy said...

I bet she's read this one then! What did she think of it?