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Sunday, June 24, 2012

After Thoughts

The general rule here is that Sunday is a day of rest. We sleep until late morning, eat a hearty brunch, take the dog for a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood, and lounge on the couch reading the Sunday New York Times, napping before dinner, and watching Masterpiece Theatre—all the while refraining from being on-line. But, today, I am breaking the rule. I have a few thoughts to share that I don't think can wait until tomorrow.

On Friday, I celebrated a significant birthday. And since it was my birthday, I indulged myself, spending the better part of the day doing what I love to do best: reading; it being a bit too hot to venture out onto the tennis courts. The night before, I had received an email advertising a "special $3.99 price" for the newly released ebook of Jodi Picoult's
Plain Truth, first published in hard cover in 2000 by Washington Square Press (a division of Simon and Schuster, New York, NY).

Now, while I am not typically a fan of Picoult's, preferring, instead, to read Anita Shreve, the promo text sounded promising. Somewhat intrigued, as well as looking for an interim read between the quilted texts of Jennifer Chiaverini—I am already on book seven of the 18-book Elm Creek Quilts series—I downloaded a thirty-page sample and started reading. By bedtime, I was so beguiled by and immersed in the story, that I had to buy the rest of the 381-page ebook.

This was nearly a marathon read that continued until the wee hours of this morning—the only breaks were for meals, FrankieB walks, an evening's respite to share a celebratory Birthday evening with family and friends, and two must-do errands yesterday afternoon. The rest of the time was spent in the Amish community of Lancaster County, PA, where Picoult's novel takes place. This, in the beginning, made it even more of an enjoyable read as I am quite familiar with nearby East Paradise and its surroundings. Couple that with an engrossingly complex plot line and in-depth characters that leapt to life out of the shell of my e-reader into my living room, and you've got yourself a winner.

Or so I thought.

The basic premise is outwardly simple enough. A new born baby, less than three hours old, is found dead, hidden under blankets in the barn of an Amish dairy farm. Forensics declares the neonate murdered. The East Paradise police department accuses the only viable suspect, Katie, a single 18-year old Amish girl, living on the farm, who fiercely declares that she was not pregnant, did not give birth, and absolutely did not murder the baby—although the evidence overwhelmingly proves otherwise. It seems like an open-and-shut case until Ellie, Katie’s distant cousin who just happens to be an attorney, steps up to her defense. As part of the bail agreement, Ellie—sophisticated, single, fresh out of a long-term relationship—is ordered by the court to live with Katie and her family on the farm until the case comes to trial. Easy-peasey. But things quickly get complicated with the addition of a skating ghost, a scholarly, shunned brother, a parapsychologist, thwarted lovers, and the dichotomies of cultural misunderstandings between the Amish and the Englischers. Simplicity becomes complexity, and, eventually, in the convoluting intertwining of her plot lines and character relationships, Picoult, just as Katie does, looses her way.

What I like about this author's writing style is that it is grippingly fast-paced, oozing with facts and details that lend her story true-to-life credibility. However, Picoult, in her eagerness to impress her readers with her own knowledge, piles it on a bit too thick. There are too many erudite, explanatory details in her dialogue. Details that are repeated over and over, as if she is trying to hammer home a point already nailed in a previous scene. This is pronouncedly evident in the last few chapters of the book, when Picoult is racing to the final denouement. In trying to answer the questions the first parts of the novel pose (Is Katie innocent as she claims or are there extenuating circumstances? Will Ellie win her case? How does the ghost fit into the case? Will the boys eventually get their girls?), Picoult seems more caught up in trying to tie up loose ends and finish her tale, than trying to please her reader. She trips over herself and, consequently, her ending does not—pardon the pun—do her characters justice. The reader is left in the same state that two of her protagonists in this pseudo-romance mystery novel (a new genre, folks: mysteromance) leave their lovers: flat.

I have read a few, not many, and certainly not all of Picoult's other novels. They were good, satisfying reads, and I expected this one to be on par. And, yes, in many respects, Plain Truth did share with them her flare for the dramatic, her ability to command the reader's attention, to draw one into her characters' world, her evident pain-staking research, and her sometimes hauntingly eerie plot twists. But it seemed, when all was written and done, that what should have been Picoult’s usual artfully planned artful craftsmanship was somehow mislaid.

Adeptly describing pathological clues and their expected ultimate impact on the alleged murder, Picoult leads the reader on to what should have been the choicest ending. Instead, the significance of the evidence is lost. Unfortunately, the jury is not given a chance to render its long-awaited verdict and, subsequently, the judge, after a really great trial scene, is unable to render her decision. The ghost, whom I was certain was going to be an integral part of the plot, especially the ending, suddenly disappears, rendered non-existent. Major characters, whose fates should have been revealed, are cast aside. And the final closing, which should have been the climatic culmination of what could have been an exceptionally good read, is nothing more than a disappointing attempt at a pseudo-surprise ending that is totally out of context.

Sadly, it is as if Picoult had gotten bored writing Plain Truth three-quarters of the way through the story, declared it finished, and wrote the last chapters almost as if, much to my chagrin, they were after thoughts.
2:50 pm edt          Comments

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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Miss Elmira's Secret Treasure: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast


Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood



Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her sixth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,