What is it about: As is usual with Picoult's writing, we have a moral dilemma for Ms. Sage Singer (her sisters' names are Saffron and Pepper), a moody, introverted, scarred young woman born into the Jewish faith, but not a practicing Jew. Sage, a baking genius, is participating in a grief group because of the death of her mother. She feels at fault for her mother's death and can't let it go. In this group, Sage meets Josef Weber. He is a very quiet older man (95), but they do strike up a friendship. Eventually Josef reveals his secret to her and asks Sage to assist him in death. Also central to the main storyline are Sage's grandmother, Minka, Adam, a married funeral director, Mary, the owner of a bakery and an ex-nun, and finally, Leo, a Jewish attorney that hunts down Nazis. The story is a very tangled one and only sorts itself out in the last 10 pages. You can probably put some of it together yourself. And I'll let you do just that.
What I thought: As is usual, I have this intense love-hate affair with Picoult's writing. Dollars to donuts, Picoult would be pleased by my admission. She likes to get her readers thinking. Mostly I grumble my way through her books, but usually there is a redeeming quality about the end of the story that at least gives me a sense of peace. I was tempted to quit this one because life is too short. Had I quit this one, this review would have said: I hate this book and I am sick of Picoult and I am not reading not one more of her books. I finished. Now, I can report that I am mildly irritated with Picoult for a few things, left with a couple thinking points and, overall, come next March, I will be in line to read her next book.
Resting on our laurels: Has anyone ever been told that? I was told that one time and I've never forgotten it. It means that we rely on previous successes to get us through. I am always on the look out for this when I read an author that has been at the trade for a long time. So I'm just going to get this out of the way.
When I read:
"The Grand Hotel rose above us like a wedding cake, with tiers upon tiers of windows. I imagined the stories going on behind each one. The two people in silhouette on the second floor were newlyweds. The woman staring out from the third-floor corner suite was remembering her lost love, whom she would meet for coffee later that afternoon, for the first time in twenty years..."
Yes, this is exactly the quote, complete with the ellipsis (...)! To me this comes off as nothing more than author's draft note/thought that was never finished for publication. To me, it means that Picoult was not interested in finishing that paragraph properly. This note is a paragraph waiting to happen and it ticks me off.
when I read:
"The fact that we were lonely/horny/sublimating grief."
First, this isn't even a complete thought. Does that make it a fragment perhaps? Second, why the choice of words here for the reader? Could Picoult not commit to how her own character was feeling and explain or show that feeling better than a fill in the blank for her reader?
Seriously, tell me just to step off my soapbox. I am fresh out of a university English Department. Those writers would not have let me escape with my life had I left paragraphs like that in a final draft. Does this just mean that Picoult is resting on her laurels? Tell me what you think.
So, okay, now I can tell you what I did like: Picoult let me mull over forgiveness and power and betrayal. I struggle with those concepts from time to time. She has some wonderful passages to share:
"Power isn't doing something terrible to someone who's weaker than you, Reiner. It's having the strength to do something terrible, and choosing not to."
"So you'd forgive him?" "I didn't say that. It's not my place, or yours, if you ask me. Forgiveness is the imitation of God."
It's easy to say you will do what's right and shun what's wrong, but when you get close enough to any given situation, you realize that there is no black or white. There are gradations of gray."
"I don't know what this person did to you, and I am not sure I want to. But forgiving isn't something you do for someone else. It's something you do for yourself. It's saying, You're not important enough to have a stranglehold on me. It's saying, You don't get to trap me in the past. I am worthy of a future."
"There are so many ways to betray someone. You can whisper behind his back. You can deceive him on purpose. You an deliver him into the hands of his enemy, when he trusts you. You can break a promise."
"It doesn't matter who forgives you, if you're the one who can't forget."
Rating: 4 stars (but just barely)
(I'm all about ratings again this year: 5 stars - enlightenment + connection; 4 stars - connection and bonding;
3 stars - not bad writing, but no real connection; 2 stars - I probably did not finish and I won't bother telling you about it anyway; 1 star - disturbing - not the good kind, but the really ugly kind.)