Thursday, June 18, 2009

I, Waffle

Let's start out by saying that I consider myself a Jodi Picoult fan. I'm on record as saying that I can't read more than one of her books per year, because they all bear such a remarkable resemblance to each other. But I've read My Sister's Keeper, Vanishing Acts, The Pact, Nineteen Minutes, and Plain Truth, and I've enjoyed all of them very much. I have had only one consistent complaint, and that is that the big twist that she saves for the end often depends on someone keeping a secret against all reason and everyone's best interests. But this is a relatively small problem, and really isn't too glaring if you don't read two or three in a row.

I'm also on the record with my drive-by concern about multiple viewpoints (and fonts. I can totally understand how a person can become a font snob) in Handle with Care. But that was mostly just bluster--I complain a lot, it's the cheap and easy way to talk about almost anything. I was still looking forward to the book.

Which I started today. And sadly, I put it down and have decided that I'm not going to read it. The beginning put me off in two ways. One will probably not persist through the whole book; the other is, I think another pervasive Picoult peculiarity (God, I'm sorry, I just had to). Couple this with the fact that I have too many books on my list now to persevere with something that I'm only lukewarm on and I'm just going to have to throw in the towel.

Problem one, the simple one, is that, at this point in my life, I have a pretty low threshold for suffering baby stories. Under normal conditions, I have a very high tolerance for such things; you might even call me callous. But that was before I began spending my days with a drooly little creature with a potbelly and a bizarre fondness for Andy Warhol. (Seriously, he'll stare at the soup can print in the kitchen and laugh and laugh. But that's another blog.) Now, I have to stop reading newspaper articles in which tragic things happen to babies. Sometimes, I even get upset when tragic things happen to the parents of babies. And, seriously, I'm incredibly insensitive.

So this little baby born with seven broken bones and in so much pain...well, I wasn't quite able to deal with it. But if that was all, well, she's not going to be a little baby for the whole book.

But the other problem is something that I think I've identified as another Picoultism: the Mystical Nature of Motherhood. Again, I have a drooly little goober of my own now, so I do understand the need to protect him and the love that seems all out of proportion for someone who screams at you that much. But the goopiness of the mother-child bond as described in this book is cloying. If you squeeze the book, sentiment drips out and leaves a puddle on the floor.

There's a passage in the first chapter where the mother is describing the daughter's birth, and she keeps repeating the child's name. I would need to quote a lot to get the point across, but she basically repeats the baby's name like an incantation, and the baby--thirty seconds old and being bustled over by doctors--hears her and stops crying. In spite of the broken bones and the having just been born. This is sentimentality that I just can't stomach.

Couple that with the discussions the parents share before the birth about the daughter's potentially terminal illness, in which the mother does not seem at all interested in the facts of the illness, but only in the fact that her daughter is destined for her in some way, and you just get a character I can't relate to. I mean, yeah, your child is more to you than the symptoms of their illness. But I'm not into the whole 'babies as angels sent from above' thing. Babies are people busy growing into grown-ups, and it's your job as a parent to facilitate that. Which means understanding their health. The fact that she knowingly gave birth to a baby with a very serious genetic disorder without any practical planning--how will we feed her/hold her/carry her?--just makes me dislike the narrator so much that I can't read the book.

Wow, i had a lot to say about a book that I only read 10 pages of. I'll stop now--the book and the review. Sorry, Picoult lovers. I'm still planning to read Keeping Faith.

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