Posts Tagged Picoult
Salem Falls is my third Picoult. As such, it is, unfortunately, doomed to the blight of comparison. You can expect a lot of referring back to Second Glance and The Pact in this review. Salem Falls follows the same structure as The Pact; there is a formulaic build up, climax and then the court case which takes up the latter third of the book. It’s a tried and tested formula and still feels fresh in Salem Falls. I would go as far as saying it works better than that of The Pact insofar as the characters are much more interesting and varied. The backstory that there is, is hard hitting and concise and the events in the present dwell more in the characters than in the prison the protagonist ends up in.
Speaking of the protagonist, Jack St. Bride must be the most unfortunate man in fiction. He is a stranger in the town of Salem Falls, having just been released from an eight month prison sentence. He was serving time for a rape which never happened, but the people of the sleepy little New Hampshire town don’t know this. The majority of them are ready to froth at the mouths and run him out of town. The few sympathisers he has are Addie and her family, owners of the aptly named Do-or-Diner. Jack’s already marred reputation is even more dashed on the pavement when he is, yet again, accused of rape, and of course it’s up to the familiar face of Jordan McAfee (The Pact) to get him off.
Looking back at The Pact after reading this, I can really see where Picoult fell down in that novel and excelled in this one. The characters in Salem Falls have interesting quirks and personality flaws. My favourite being Jack’s obsession and extraordinary expertise at Jeopardy! Overall they are very well rounded. None of them are filler. Although some do occupy the rather nameless space in the background, these are not in any sense central to the narrative. The list of interesting characters is far, far longer than these few. There is a harrowing sense of realism to them, which is a common trope in Picoult’s work. Jack and Addie both have the ghosts of their pasts at the back of their minds. Jordan McAfee is more or less the same (if a little diluted) as he is in The Pact. The ‘prosecution’ side of the story is rather more expanded as well. Gilly Duncan is a fascinatingly complex teen girl, who has, with a quartet of friends, turned to pagan religion and her father is leading the town against Jack.
Salem Falls, finally, holds close the one amazing point I had about Second Glance. The research is phenomenal. Reading Picoult is like having a lesson on topics you would never have known of otherwise. It’s truly unique. The novel is intertwined with quotes from The Crucible. Salem Falls is her answer to it, however the witches are the one’s doing the prosecution and the victim is the loner in town. It’s a clever reversal and fits nicely into a very intelligent book. I recently heard someone refer to Jodi Picoult’s novels as “Chick Lit,” but I honestly don’t see the comparison. Salem Falls appeals to me after all, a twenty-one year old English guy. I see it as crime fiction most of the time. And who doesn’t love getting into the gritty deathmatch which is a courtroom drama?
I’ll admit I went into The Pact without really knowing what to expect. I left it knowing that I enjoyed it immensely and still reeling from the gripping last hundred and fifty pages which went down in one sitting. Picoult has a penchant for designing her novels. By which I mean everything ties in together very nicely, is exceptionally well researched and a very realistic mirror of perhaps the more unusual aspects of modern life. In my review of Second Glance I applauded her ability to collate research into a novel and although The Pact is considerably less complex in terms of plot, the attention to detail is still sublime.
I was perhaps a little worried that the book would turn out to be erring on the side of angsty, but I was pleasantly surprised when the main theme of the novel – a court case surrounding an alleged suicide pact was dealt with not only sensitively but interestingly. The pact was between Chris and Emily, a teenage couple living next door to each other in a small and romantic suburb in New Hampshire. Chris was among the first people to see Emily in the world. At her birth, he was six months old and was placed next to her in her crib. Emily however sinks into a downward spiral of depression and Chris can’t help her.
The double suicide goes wrong. Chris is charged with murder of the first degree and sent to prison pending trial and the novel really comes into its own in the courtroom scenes. Picoult introduces a wonderfully dysfunctional Lawyer – Jordan McAfee – as Chris’ defence. As it turns out he’s a viper in the courtroom and his character alone would make the entire book worth reading. He’s why the last hundred and fifty pages are so readable. He’s a confliction of uncultured layabout and maestro which works on multiple levels. He almost steals the story from the rest of the characters.
Unfortunately that’s not entirely a good thing. While the portion of the novel which concerns itself with Chris’ home life and his time in prison is an engaging read it’s not as engaging as the courtroom thriller it becomes in the last quarter. However, I would say that the courtroom proceedings may get tiresome if they took up the whole novel, and I would also say that the back story of Chris’ and Emily’s relationship is a necessary part of the novel. I just wish that it could have been written with the same hand-in-mouth verve with which the courtroom scenes were.
Chris’ parents are interesting but decidedly average. Gus (Augusta) and James are the typical supportive mother and distant father character. James flies on the edge of the novel and only really gains much of a character towards the end after realising he can’t just brush the death of his son’s girlfriend under the rug. Gus sticks with Chris throughout and is a lifeline between the prison and the outer world. Emily’s parents are the mostly insane Melanie and her oppressed husband Michael; they have a rift filled relationship, and quite rightly after their only child was taken from them – ostensibly by herself, but according to the officious policewoman Marie Marrone, by Chris. Michael is probably the less interesting of the two, just seeming rather normal. Like the character equivalent of mashed potato. Melanie is a freshly shaken up can of cola, braced for a good explosion. I must commend the diversity of character in the novel even so. The characters work excellently with each other to carry the novel forward when the frustrated, scared and confused Chris sits lonely in a cell.
I’d recommend the novel to anyone. If you’re out looking for a tearjerker you might find it here, but mostly it’s a book which has been somewhat misbranded. The young girl on the cover drawing a heart in the condensation on a window hides a brilliantly exciting courtroom drama on the other side of that misted up window.