I always knew that fact, but after finishing reading The Pact today at work, I’m even more convinced that the core message of the book is that parents are, in fact, gross.
Briefly, The Pact in the title refers to the suicide pact made between protagonist Chris Harte and his close-enough-to-be-a-sister girlfriend, Emily Gold. They live in perfect America, AKA Bainbridge, New Hampshire, where they live normal, happy lives and have basically sprung from the same acorn, born three months apart and progressing from best friends to lovers. Even their parents consider the other child to be like their own, and are not at all grossed out by the fact that they are dating, in fact they encourage it. That is, until one night when Emily and Chris are found at a carousel; Emily shot in the head, and Chris wounded and holding a smoking gun. Naturally, the idyllic lives of the two families are shattered, as the Golds bury Emily, and Chris is faced with a lifetime prison sentence for murder, which his parents (or at least his mother, Gus – short for Augusta) think is not the solution. The book goes back and forth between then (the murder) and now (the murder trial of Chris Harte), where Jordan McAfee, Chris’s kind of scumbaggy (at least to me) defense attorney is trying to prove his client’s innocence. It ends kind of how you’d expect, a little on the mushy side but not too unrealistic, as far as the Golds’ reaction to the verdict.
Okay, first, the bad. Well, not so much bad, but blah. Let’s start with Chris and Emily. They are in high school. She’s Jewish, he’s some unspecified Christian. He’s a star swimmer, she’s a gifted artist with her eyes on the Sorbonne, they’re both extremely intelligent and unspoken, and of course, (spoiler alert), she gets pregnant with Chris’s baby, which spurs the whole suicide pact theme of the book. That’s what drives the plot forward and gives the characters “depth.” The reason I put it in quotation marks is because Picoult herself says in the author’s notes that she meant for it to be an opposite Romeo and Juliet story, with Montagues and Capulets who are neighbors and best friends and everything’s peachy keen between them up until the death. Especially because Chris doesn’t die, so of course he’s immediately blamed for Emily’s death by her mom, Melanie. I didn’t find Chris or Emily to be particularly likeable, so that kind of hurt the story a little for me.
Also, there is way too much background info on the lives of Jordan, the defense attorney, and Barrie, the state attorney. They also came off kind of badly, which I think was the opposite of Picoult’s intention, but they sure sounded bossy.
Then, there’s the good, which are the parents. At the beginning of the book, I liked Chris and Emily but not the parents. Over time, however, they grew on me. I was rolling my eyes when they were introduced. Both men are doctors and obviously the family breadwinners so Melanie (Emily’s mom) can be a librarian, and Gus (Chris’s mom) can fulfill her dream of…being a professional line-sitter. Yep, she sits in lines for people for a living. Though it takes a murder, they become a lot more dimensional over the story. Melanie spins into a raging bitch, wanting nothing to do with the Hartes and blaming Chris for everything despite finding Emily’s journal, which says otherwise, and James (Gus’s husband and Chris’s dad) refuses to take part in any of this business until the very end because it might damage his high-flying career. In the wake of their spouses going bananas, Michael and Gus create an alliance of grieving parenthood, with Gus appropriately sad at Emily’s death and believing that her son is innocent, and Michael feeling sorry that Chris is in this mess in the first place, which leads him to testify for the defense instead of the prosecution, which of course thrills his wife. There are hints of it possibly turning romantic, but Picoult does a good job of not letting it get too gauche and mushy.
But finally, going back to the title of this post and why I felt compelled to write it today rather than catch up on a review of one of the books I’ve read in the past few weeks, this book taught me that parents are gross. Not only can they behave like dicks (for example, Gus and James also have a daughter named Kate who is crazy underutilized), but they are also surprisingly sexual at odd times. It’s not erotic, but Jodi Picoult just gives a little TMI when describing the two sets of couples in their bedrooms. Yes, I know that parents have sex, and in the book they don’t have it excessively or weirdly or anything, but the author paints quite the mental picture of parents who have young adult children, especially in a book about murder and not a romance novel. I found myself cringing and trying to speed-read through the few scenes where they’re in bed. I don’t know why, but when your kids have had sex, conceived, and then made a suicide pact, I don’ think it would get me in the mood.
Anyway, it was a page-turning read, otherwise I wouldn’t have written 900 words on it. I still like Jodi Picoult even if her characters are paper dolls.