About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

#1 - My Sister's Keeper

Gotta love road trips. When else would I make a dent in the paperbacks I seem to accumulate till they're triple-stacked in my bookcase, but then never read because my library books are due back soon?

So, my less-than-auspicious first book of 2011 was My Sister's Keeper, by the prolific, popular, and predictable Jodi Picoult (New York: Atria, 2004).

Jacket Summary: "Can a parent love too much? Or is too much never enough?

"Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplementation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate -- a life and a role that she has never challenged ... until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister -- and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves. A provocative novel that raises some important ethical issues, My Sister's Keeper is the story of one family's struggle for survival at all human costs and a stunning moral parable for all time."

Opening Line: "When I was little, the great mystery to me wasn't how babies were made, but why."

My Take: I'm not usually a big fan of chain restaurants, but I'll grant that they have their place. Back when the Sapling was still just a wee shoot, many road trips were saved by a well-situated McDonald's Playplace. There's a sad little mall in Oneonta with a Subway that's just the thing on the not-quite-brief-enough-to-do-in-one-shot drive to Aunt & Uncle Thyme's house. And hey -- I may not have a minivan, but sometimes, when Sapling & I are running from errand to activity to friend's house on Saturdays, a quick swing by Panera is ... well, a mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do. Pretentious foodie that I am, even I'll allow that sometimes, the ideal has to defer to the practical. The chains are quick, cheap, and reliable; you probably won't be transported when your lunch arrives, but nor will you be disappointed or disgusted.

And so it is with Jodi Picoult's books. They're incredibly formulaic, right down to the muted jewel tones on the covers: Take a hot contemporary legal/ ethical issue (bonus points if there's a medical component, though that's not strictly required), invent a family and associated professionals to go with it, choose different fonts to represent the perspectives of 5-7 different players in the story ... and eventually, cap it all off with a twist ending and at least one dead child. Even knowing all this, though -- I don't read 'em every day, any more than I eat at McD's or Subway on a regular basis -- sometimes, that's precisely what I want to read. Like here, when I was looking for something I a) owned in paperback, so as to conserve space and weight in my suitcase, and b) would find both compelling enough to overcome vacation inertia, but not so demanding that I couldn't concentrate despite the bustle and blaring TV in my parents' house. I had 2 yet-unread Picoults on the shelf, and this one won out over The Pact. I started it New Year's Eve and turned the last page before heading home on New Year's Day; I liked some of the characters more than others; I wished I'd stopped before reading the last few twist-ending chapters. In short, I got what I paid for and can't really complain.

Interestingly, the 6 characters Picoult chooses to tell the story don't include Kate -- at least not until the very end. Anna's voice, of course, comes first. Alternating chapters are narrated by Sara, the lawyer-turned-SAH mom who opts to represent herself and her husband in Anna's lawsuit against them; Brian, her firefighter husband and the kids' father, who harbors his own doubts about his kids' medical circumstances and lets Anna move into the fire house with him temporarily; Jesse, the Fitzgeralds' oldest child and only son, who's moved into the family's garage and been so utterly ignored over the years that he's turned to arson in hopes of finally attracting his parents' attention; Campbell Alexander, the attorney Anna convinces to represent her pro bono for reasons that aren't entirely clear; and Julia Romano, the court-appointed guardian at litem charged with getting to know the family and determining what's really in Anna's best interest (who, by the way, has a complicated romantic history with Campbell going way back). As you might surmise from my character summaries, some parts of the story are more interesting than others. The Campbell-Julia history and sexual tension didn't really do much for me, but perhaps that's just because I forgot to include "romantic sub-plot" in my required elements of Picoult blockbusters. On the other hand, I'd have liked to have heard more of Jesse's story -- which sheds considerable light on Anna's plight, and ended up being resolved far too quickly and smoothly for an author who seems to pride herself on capturing many shades of gray.

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