Jodi Picoult: My Sister's Keeper

My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult

This novel had a great premise, and that combined with the cover image led me to hope for a dreamy, thinky, Kazuo Ishiguro kind of novel. Unfortunately, once I got in I realized it was a lot more nitty-gritty family drama than I wanted. Instead of exploring the inner life of the main character, Anna, we end up learning about everyone involved, including the lawyer who rekindles a decades-old romance with his college love. See what I mean?

Just as the author is not responsible for the better-than-the book cover, I am hoping she is not responsible for the choice to present each character's first-person narrative in a different font. I felt that decision was WAY too cute for a grown-up novel. Ugh!

Picoult is 100% responsible for her characters' voices, however, and this is where the novel slipped for me. I felt that the characters weren't distinct enough from each other -- everyone had great one-liners and amazing heartfelt insights. I think the story would have been better served if Picoult had stuck to one or, at most, two characters' stories and boiled the book down to its essentials. I don't think the plotline about the neglected troubled son added anything, for example. Don't even get me started on the romance.

Is this a trend now, where every character, no matter how incidental, gets to tell his or her story? I think Picoult should have trusted herself to tell everyone's story through Anna's, just as the publisher should have trusted us to remember whose story we were reading even if they were all in the same font.

In the end, I felt it could have been a much stronger book, but I didn't regret reading it. The story is a good one, at least up until the end, and unlike most negative reviewers, I thought Picoult did a good job of making the mother a sympathetic character. I didn't think she was a monster for pulling resources from one child to keep another alive, and I didn't find that part of the story unbelievably awful. [Even if it were, it wouldn't condemn the book for me, since unbelievably awful people can be interesting too.]

Aaaaaaaand then there's the ending. First, it was a betrayal of the challenge of the book, which was to tease out the moral path to the right decision for Anna and Kate. Second, it was a betrayal of the characters, who worked so hard to find the best answer only to have one arbitrarily thrust upon them by chance. Finally, to me it seemed to reveal what Picoult really wanted when she sat down to write this book: to save her characters from risking making the wrong choice by pulling that choice away from them at the last moment. I felt like she never really had them at play in this drama at all. When push came to shove, she just picked up all her pieces and went home. Because apparently she feels that having to deal with problems you didn't cause is preferable to making your own difficult but honest choices in life? I can't believe how awful that plot twist was, not just for her characters and readers but for her whole approach to moral problems. The message of this book seemed to be, "Try your best but hope for a catastrophic event so you never really have to make a decision." Not good enough.

I would not recommend this book.