Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Published October 2018 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley
The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.
After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.
But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the crosshairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.
Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.
Confession: I have never read a Jodi Picoult book before. Picoult has written 23 novels and I have never read a single one of them. And why is that, you may ask? They don't fall in any of the genres I tend to steer away from. They are books written to make readers think and we all know how much I like that in a book. Here's why: they are "issue" books. It's been my impression that Picoult's books are very much like the latest episode of Law and Order, story lines that are ripped from the headlines. Don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly fine with books addressing current issues. I just don't want it to feel like the writer is churning out books with no other intent other than to write about that issue. . NPR even did a segment about the way Picoult turns "tough topics into best-sellers." In that segment, NPR suggested that Picoult writes what might be called "ethical or moral fiction." I like that a lot better. They also pointed out that Picoult's novels tend to be written around families. Which brought me back to feeling like they might be formulaic.
But the thing is, this one is about a subject that I'm extremely interested in and have a fair bit of knowledge about so it seemed like it might be the right time to see what Picoult could do, how she might present an issue to readers.
And I was impressed.
This is not just a book that pits pro-choice against pro-life forces. Picoult has characters who are utilizing all of the services these clinics provide, she explores the many reasons a woman might choose abortion, and the ways that today's more restrictive laws actually make abortion more dangerous. She also gives, what felt like to me, fair voice to the pro-life characters. More importantly, she explored the ways that people can feel more than one way about the issue.
I'm not sure I've ever read a book that reads entirely backwards and sometimes it could drag as we moved further away from the day's action. But in writing the book in this way, Picoult is able to gradually expose the characters motives and relationships in a way I really enjoyed. And while you might think that this ends the book when everything was sunny and peaceful, Picoult has held back a couple of big surprises.
Will I pick up another Picoult? Probably. Maybe even the book she wrote before this one, Great Small Things, which tackles prejudice, race, and justice, all issues I'm very interested in as well.