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Jodi Picoult Convinced Me That Parents Are Gross

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.

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Have Mercy

Occasionally, I like to read something easy, a “beach read” if you will, just for fun and pleasure. Call it chick-lit if you want, but if it’s a good, thick book with a rather neutral cover, no one has to know what’s inside it. Sometimes when I read I just want to get into a story, follow some characters around, and not really aim to learn anything. It’s kind of like a soap opera, but probably a better use of my time than watching an actual soap opera, and more satisfying since I can take the descriptions the author provides and imagine my own characters and scenes rather than watch some too-pretty people prance around for an hour and then hate myself for the next three. I almost never hate myself after reading a novel. However, I did have some emotions after reading Mercy by Jodi Picoult.

Mercy

In brief, Mercy is the story of love and the lengths people are willing to go for it. Cameron MacDonald, a police chief, and his wife Allie, a florist, live a normal, boring life in Wheelock, Massachusetts. One day, a guy shows up in town claiming that a) he’s Cam’s cousin Jamie, b) his wife, Maggie, is dead in the passenger seat, and c) he killed her. Well, that’s promising. On the same day, Allie hires a mysterious woman named Mia Townsend to be her assistant after she catches her breaking and entering her shop and playing with the flowers while she’s out dealing with the newfound-cousin mess in the street. Because when someone breaks into your shop, of course the thing to do is hire them.

Of course, now that there are two new, unattached young people in town (Jamie and Mia), Cam and Allie’s relationship as a married couple starts to unravel. Cam finds himself attracted to Mia, who was his waitress at a cafe in Italy awhile back and has somehow found him now, and bored housewife Allie is drawn to Jamie after learning that his wife Maggie had cancer and asked him to kill her when her quality of life got so bad that she didn’t have the will to live anymore. Due to Cam and Jamie’s familial connection, Cam hires his friend Graham to be Jamie’s lawyer, so that Jamie can win his case, and due to Jamie needing to stay within the city limits of Wheelock, Allie volunteers to go to Cummington to get testimonies from Jamie’s friends and neighbors, suddenly trusting Mia with running her shop and conveniently leaving her with not only her keys, but the ability to use them to enter her home and start a love affair with Cam, about which Allie remains completely oblivious for way too long.

There’s a bunch of crap about the MacDonald name, and Cam’s Uncle Angus, who takes Jamie in for the duration, and Mia, who’s a complete flake and keeps running away from town and then returning like nothing happened. And the trial, which is basically just a constant reiteration of the fact that Jamie’s a good guy, he was (and is) in love with his wife, he killed her out of love and at her request, and he’s extremely sad about it. This is information that we found out when we first meet Jamie in Chapter 2, and nothing changes. Jamie’s found innocent, Mia kind of fades off into the sunset, and as for Cam and Allie, despite each of them having affairs (well, really Cam; Allie and Jamie didn’t really go very far on a sexual level), and Allie selling all of his stuff, they stay together. The end.

The back cover tag for this book is What would you do for someone you love? Would you leave? Would you kill?

Well, um, okay. I have to admit that even though the story is slow and purple at times, it kind of touches the topic in a very kid-gloves way. Maggie MacDonald’s death is pretty much an assisted suicide, which has tons of legal, moral, and ethical ramifications, but if Maggie would’ve figured things out and truly made her husband’s life easier after her death, she should have written a living will or some sort of document quantifying her husband’s actions, which would nip the whole thing in the bud. Good going there, Mag. But Jamie exacerbates the whole thing by toting her over to Wheelock and making a big show of things and getting himself arrested when he could’ve just, like, called a coroner and said “Oh, she died all of a sudden, because she had cancer and sometimes people with cancer die because cancer is unpredictable like that,” and cut his losses there. The whole debate was really BS, and actually made me feel like Jamie was the smartest person in the book, although he clearly wasn’t supposed to be. Mia Townsend is just a hot mess, so I’m not even going there. Cameron MacDonald is just a police chief trying to do his job, and people and things sort of get in his way, and even though he’s pretty tactless he doesn’t do anything outwardly stupid, which is more than I can say for his wife.

Allie MacDonald should get a medal or something for possibly being one of the stupidest characters I’ve ever read. She leaves her business in the hands of a beautiful woman who could rob her blind and steal her husband (and almost does the latter). She suspects nothing about Cam and Mia, and even tells Cam to “take care of her” while she’s off playing detective. If you don’t think that’s a recipe for disaster, Allie, I’m never eating in your kitchen. Plus, she puts herself out there for a guy she barely knows and could be totally playing her. Then, she sells all of her husband’s things for no good reason other than that she’s mad at him for being a jerk, which does not justify doing that. She’s so weak and always gives in to Cam, despite all this inner monologue about her standing up for herself, which never really comes to a head because in the end she stays with him despite all the crap he’s done to her.

On the positive side, though, there is a decent story arc here, and the book does address an interesting topic – assisted suicide – and Picoult follows through with both. I could do with a few less scenes about the MacDonald family Scottish memories, and replace some of the drawn-out courtroom scenes with some more info/flashback to Jamie and Maggie’s relationship, because we really never learn that much about Maggie other than that she loves her husband, is terminally ill, and doesn’t want to become a vegetable.

What I learned from Mercy: Gents, if you marry a woman who gets cancer, get that shit in writing. Don’t kill her and then parade her around some random town where you have a cousin. And ladies, if a mysterious woman walks into your life, don’t roll over and give her your keys, your money, and your husband.

And since I would never forgive myself if I didn’t have Uncle Jesse in this post, here we go.