Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Sister's Keeper: Review

I started reading Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper with some hesitation. Okay, it wasn't hesitation  - it was snobbery. A book that was made into a movie that stars Cameron Diaz can't really be that great, can it? Not to mention the cheesy paperback cover (Momsy lent me the movie-pushing edition). And, Jodi Picoult has churned out 16 novels, so surely her writing must be trite and formulaic (first person to mention how many novels Dickens wrote is getting smacked in the head). However, I needed something to read, it was sitting here on my shelf, and what I knew about the story concept was interesting. By this past Sunday night, when I finished the book at 4 am having read for 6 straight hours, I was very very happy to be wrong - about so very much of that.

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The story concept was not just interesting - it was compelling. As a mom of two I've had more than a few discussions about favourites, and fairness, and equal treatment and equal time. And that - for any parent - is an impossibility. Somedays one child's needs take precedence. The next day the other son has a crisis. It's not a matter of love - it's a matter of emergency preparedness. It's a universal law of parenting that sometimes our love looks like something else.

Picoult's novel about a younger sister who was conceived, born, and raised in the inescapable shadow of her sister's battle with leukemia was at once horrifying, 'thank God that's not me' and painfully familiar. I have wondered on many a sleepless night if I neglected one BB while dealing with the crises of the other. I wonder - like the parents in the novel - what conversations I shut down, what questions I avoided asking or answering to focus on the issue at hand. And what dragons were growing while I was chasing spiders. The tension of the story wrapped around me, and smelled of teen depression and learning disorders, and misunderstanding and thwarted intentions.

Picoult achieves something astounding though - her writing is as gripping as the story. Her scenes are crisp, and her dialogue as mysteriously murky as only family conversations can be. It's the kind of haunting writing that makes me envious. The kind of writing that you want to write on your walls. It is wise and beautiful without ever being precious:
I unlaced Julia Romano's combat boots. I peeled away her camoflauge jacket. Her feet were narrow and as pink as the inside of a tulip. Her collarbone was a mystery.
It's raining. The kind of rain that comes down so heavy it sounds like the shower's running even when you've turned it off. The kind of rain that makes you think of dams and flash floods, arks. The kind of rain that tells you to crawl back into bed, where the sheets haven't lost your body heat, to pretend that the clock is five minutes earlier than it really is.
My only complaints about the book are the handling of the 'troubled-son' Jesse. It's cliche and over-simplified in a way that no 'troubled-son' ever is. As ridiculously resolved as it is drawn in caricature. The father is similarly uncomplicated and predictable. Next to the richly drawn females, the male characters are a disappointment.

But not nearly enough of a disappointment to prevent me from looking forward to picking up another Picoult. Or to keep me from missing Anna and Kate in the 2 days since I finished reading.

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