Sunday, May 9, 2010

Book review: earlier Jodi Picoult, "Mercy"

Mercy Mercy by Jodi Picoult

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is one of Picoult's earlier books, from 1996, and I found it disappointing compared to her other novels. I think the only Picoult novel I've read that was published before Mercy was Harvesting the Heart, and I found that lacking as well in comparison to her other books. I think she began to hit her stride in 1999 or 2000.

Mercy is based on this theory:
"You know it's never 50-50 in a marriage. It's always 70-30, or 60-40. Someone falls in love first. Someone puts someone else up on a pedestal. Someone works very hard to keep things rolling smoothly; someone else sails along for the ride."

I'm not sure if Picoult the writer really believes this theory--and I realize that it's true in some cases--but what struck me was how terribly sad to be in a marriage where one partner was more devoted to the other person than vice versa. One example given was when the wife (Allie) surprises her husband at work, and he doesn't look pleased to see her. Who would want to stay in a marriage like that? And why should you?

Picoult likes to write plots that illustrate that you can't know what you would do in a difficult situation until you face it firsthand, and this novel is no different.

Jamie and Allie are both in marriages in which they love their spouses more than their spouses love them. When Jamie's wife Maggie becomes sick with incurable cancer, she talks him into smothering her with a pillow before it gets worse (without being concerned about what could happen to him after the fact). And in Allie's case, the husband she is completely devoted to, police chief Cam MacDonald (Jamie's cousin), has an affair.

Many of Picoult's novels have unlikable, unsympathetic characters, and this one was no different. Jamie was one of these egotistical, selfish sorts, and Mia, the woman he philandered with, was another. I found their affair to be hard to understand--the major thing Jamie seemed to see in Mia was her wanderlust and the fact she represented what he gave up (traveling, no chains). And he felt no remorse whatsoever in cheating on his wife, as if he felt he was entitled to an affair.

I had ZERO sympathy for Jamie or Mia, and this made the novel hard to like. I also found some of the more likable characters, Allie and Jamie, difficult to connect to, because Picoult didn't paint a vivid enough picture of their upbringing, family background, and motivations. We learned nearly nothing about either of their childhoods, for example, while we learned much more about the unsympathetic Jamie. Why was Allie so desperate for love that she would consent to life with a man who was not devoted enough to her in return?

This novel was written before the assisted suicide laws were passed in many states (including Oregon). I suspect that the attitudes toward mercy killing have changed in the past 14 years. When it was published, it was probably more thought-provoking than it is now. For new readers of Picoult, I'd take a pass on this one and read her more recent books instead.

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  1. Do you like her books in general? I have not read any but I have to say that the plots don't speak to me, but so many of my friends like her books. I'm wondering if I should pick one up and give it a whirl.

  2. I do like her books...although some of them way more than others. I think two of my favorites are "Keeping Faith," "Plain Truth," and "My Sister's Keeper."