Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Paint By Numbers

Handle With Care
by Jodi Picoult

OK, Jodi Picoult can tell a good story, and I give her credit for tackling serious issues in a way that is readable and humanizing. But seriously, she needs to move out of her comfort zone a wee bit. I have read about five of her novels now, and they all go the same way. Here's her basic outline:

I) Family trouble, usually of a medical/legal nature
II) Period of uncertainty wherein major characters align and dis align according to the unfolding of the presenting problem.
III) Legal trial
IV) Some strange twist in the trial, supposed to be a surprise. However, now that she has done this so many times, it fails to be much of a surprise.
V) Ambiguous resolution

In addition to this basic format, there is always some bizarre connection between major characters that would hardly ever happen in real life. In Handle With Care, for example, a woman sues her obstetrician for malpractice because the OB failed to diagnose a case of osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) in time for her to terminate her pregnancy. The connection is that the plaintiff and the defendant are "best friends," which I never could fully buy. I just don't think someone could sue their best friend for malpractice and then be surprised when that physician does not want to be her friend anymore.

Another piece of a Picoult book is that there is usually a side plot involving a vaguely troubled female attorney working out some issue of her own. Often, this situation gets resolved when the female attorney finds her own true love. Always a smooth, good-looking guy. Of course.

Picoult's novels are full of pop culture references that are fun right now, but will date them within a decade or so. She must be doing something right, because she cranks out runaway bestsellers. The books are entertaining, and she does gently force her readers to confront their opinions on various issues of medical ethics. She certainly does her homework - the issues she raises are well-researched. However, she is getting less entertaining with every subsequent book because she is so formulaic. I think she has enough talent that she could experiment with plot and character more and people would stick with her. Maybe she thinks if something is working why mess with it, and one can hardly blame her for that. I believe, though, that people will start to get bored with her work if she does not. I, for one, have already.

Reverent Reader


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