“Second Glance” by Jodi Picoult: excellent novel about being haunted by loss

second glanceJodi Picoult’s books are marketed as if they were Richard and Judy / Opra /Hallmark fodder – with an awful “What would you do?” line that appears on each cover. In the past I’ve avoided them because life is too short.

My wife told me “Second Glance” would be worth my time but warned me it would be sad.

Sad? This book had me weeping many times. It also had me pausing in admiration at some of the prose: wonderfully evocative descriptions of everyday strangeness and excellent dialogue. Most impressive of all was the skill with which Picoult handles the challenging themes in this story. For me, she should be in the company of John Irving or Barbara Kingsolver or Joanne Harris.

In this book, nothing is what it seems at first glance. Picoult juxtaposes the rational views of the 1930s eugenics movement and current genetic screening with the emotional richness of unique but damaged people. She acknowledges the power of inheritance and family but she weighs it against the potential for individuals to transcend their background through their love for others.

At the literal heart of this book is the idea that spirits of the dead can visit the living. This might be a stumbling block for some, pushing the book into genre fiction, but this is no more a ghost story than say, Sarah Water’s “Little Stranger”. This is about being haunted by loss, about being unable to find a reason to live, about seeing clearly how things are and being brave enough to do what has to be done.

I look forward to reading more of her work .

I’m grateful to my wife for getting me to give this book a second glance and encouraging me to move beyond my own preconceptions.

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