Published September 2020 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
Everything changes in a single moment for Dawn Edelstein. She's on a plane when the flight attendant makes an announcement: prepare for a crash landing. She braces herself as thoughts flash through her mind. The shocking thing is, the thoughts are not of her husband, but a man she last saw fifteen years ago: Wyatt Armstrong.
Dawn, miraculously, survives the crash, but so do all the doubts that have suddenly been raised. She has led a good life. Back in Boston, there is her husband, Brian, her beloved daughter, and her work as a death doula, where she helps ease the transition between life and death for patients in hospice.
But somewhere in Egypt is Wyatt Armstrong, who works as an archaeologist unearthing ancient burial sites, a job she once studied for, but was forced to abandon when life suddenly intervened. And now, when it seems that fate is offering her second chances, she is not as sure of the choice she once made.
After the crash landing, the airline ensures the survivors are seen by a doctor, then offers transportation wherever they want to go. The obvious option for Dawn is to continue down the path she is on and go home to her family. The other is to return to the archaeological site she left years before, reconnect with Wyatt and their unresolved history, and maybe even complete her research on The Book of Two Ways--the first known map of the afterlife.
As the story unfolds, Dawn's two possible futures unspool side by side, as do the secrets and doubts long buried beside them. Dawn must confront the questions she's never truly asked: What does a life well-lived look like? When we leave this earth, what do we leave behind? Do we make choices...or do our choices make us? And who would you be, if you hadn't turned out to be the person you are right now?
You might recall that not long ago I finally read my first Jodi Picoult book. Two things had put me off before that: the snobbish idea that good books cannot be written as fast as Picoult writes books and the idea that her books seem to always be about the latest "big" controversy. I still don't know that you could write the great American novel in a year but Picoult proved to me that you can write a book that will engross and entertain readers that quickly. And that if you can write well about whatever the latest big topic is, then it's good to write about those things in a way that will make people think about them. So we come to this book, which I was eager to read when it was offered to me. It is most decidedly not about the latest talking point. In fact, it is about two of the oldest subjects: love and death.
Having not long ago read God, Graves, and Scholars, it was interesting for me to find myself back in Egypt, uncovering the mysteries of ancient burials. According to Wikipedia, "The Book of Two Ways is a precursor to the New Kingdom books of the underworld as well as the Book of the Dead, in which descriptions of the routes through the afterlife are a persistent theme. The two ways depicted are the land and water routes, separated by a lake of fire, that lead to Rostau and the abode of Osiris." Taking that as her starting point, Picoult has tied ancient superstitions with physic's theory of a multiverse. As explained by Brian, in the book, the idea is that every action has multiple outcomes and that each of them exists in a different universe.
Picoult has structured her book so that I was never quite sure where in time I was or if I were reading two possible different outcomes which, instead of finding confusing, I found really intriguing. In her current life, Water/Boston, Dawn is a death doula, wife, and mother; in her past, Land/Egypt, she is a graduate student on the cusp of a major archaeological discovery and passionately in love with a fellow student. In both locations, Picoult spends a lot of time sharing with readers what she has learned about hospice work, quantum physics, and Egyptology. A lot. It was certainly interesting, and Picoult has done an incredible amount of research, but it often distracted from Dawn's story.
Speaking of Dawn's story: you know the old trope where our two leads hate each other in the beginning and then end up falling in love? Yeah, that's Dawn and Wyatt. Unfortunately, that story's grown old for me and I have a hard time buying the idea that the guy that was a jerk in the beginning turns out to be Mr. Wonderful. Which is a problem here - we have to believe that Wyatt was so incredible that Dawn never fell out of love with him and I never entirely bought that.
And yet...despite that fact that I felt like Picoult took a couple of story lines too far and that some of the plotting was predictable...I liked this book, to a large extent, I think, because I liked the structure and the idea of wondering what might have happened if. I appreciated that Picoult doesn't make either of the men in Dawn's life less than the other; both have their flaws but plenty of reasons for Dawn to be love them. Which makes the ending of the book unknown to readers and I really liked the way that Picoult left things open in the end. For fans of Picoult, I think you'll enjoy this one.