A Journalist's Archive

Jodi Picoult
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

Jodi Picoult, who has written twelve novels, writes about relationships with one or two social issues thrown in for good measure.  Her writing style allows readers to zip through her novels while pondering weighty matters, such as mercy killing in her novel "Mercy."  But maybe that's the problem; euthanasia is not the proper subject for what I would call a good "beach book."

Picoult entices readers by beginning the story with a question from a woman to her lover, "If you don't do it then who will?"  Within the first page her life has ended, before her name is even mentioned, and from there Picoult fills in the background.

The majority of the story takes place in Wheelock, a small Massachusetts town, where Jamie McDonald kills his wife in a hotel room.  He chose that location so he could surrender to a cousin he has never met, police chief Cam McDonald.  Picoult introduces the remaining characters as the story builds up to Jamie's trial.  But the writer quickly abandons the mercy killing story line, and the novel disintegrates into a tale of dysfunctional relationships.

Jamie and Maggie, the woman he adored before killing her, never truly developed an adult relationship.  Cam and his wife Ali have a marriage based on a type of "puppy love" adoration.   And Cam begins an affair with Mia, a woman who wanders into town and gets a job working in Ali's flower shop, in order to relieve the stress of his "clan" responsibilities.  At this point, mercy killing may have been a good idea for the entire cast of characters.

The hokiest part of novel is the clan sub-plot, and I think it was an afterthought to stretch the story into a 400 page production.  Wheelock was founded in the 1700's by a MacDonald, a Scottish immigrant, who wrote home referring to it as a pretty location "set by a wee loch."  Other members of the MacDonald clan immigrated to the town and many generations later, Cam, as leader of the MacDonald clan, is responsible for the welfare of the entire population.  

 From my own experience living in Massachusetts for six years, I know there are indeed towns that mirror their European roots.  The best part of living on the east coast is the opportunity to enjoy a diversity of foods, celebrations, and customs immigrants brought with them from the "old country."  But Picoult exaggerates the extent to which these things impact second, third, or fourth generation Americans, and the notion of Cam being responsible for his "clan" is laughable at best.   

Furthermore, Picoult never develops the circumstances surrounding Maggie's illness to the point where the reader can see the urgency for her death.  Maggie, who may have had a few weeks or months left to live, requests a "special weekend" before her death where she and Jamie go out dancing.  Anyone who has witnessed the ravages of cancer and the treatments that go along with it just can't take this seriously.  Plus, Picoult never explains why Maggie couldn't have killed herself instead of forcing the task onto her husband.

Picoult is a good writer; she knows where to place the adjectives and nouns, but the lack of character development and substance in a novel dealing with mercy killing left me to exclaim, "Lord have mercy!"  

First published in The New Falcon Herald
Article Copyright © 2006 Bluestack Consulting, Inc.
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