Saturday, September 5, 2009

Handle with Care

I was very excited to have a new book by Jodi Picoult to read while Ryan was out of town. Last Sunday I sat down with Handle with Care and didn't come up for air until I was done. I love that about her books. I just can't stop reading until I'm done. Everything else falls away. Her stories and characters are just so engrossing. You know these people, you're there in the story. Even when you don't particularly like a character, she writes in such a way that you understand why they're acting a certain way, so you can't exactly dislike them.

The other day at work, we were talking about our strengths. One of my coworkers strengths is empathy. I made a comment about how empathy is definitely one of my weaknesses, and how I've actually scored a zero in mercy on some of those church tests that test your strengths. One of my employees said she didn't think that was true, and pointed out instances where I have been empathetic. That got me thinking, and I do think I've improved in that area over the years. It's still a weakness (one that, sadly, I'm actually proud of), but I'm not nearly as bad as I used to be. I honestly think I owe a big part of that to Picoult. As I mentioned, she writes in such a way that you understand her character's actions, even when you disagree with them. I'm not very good at understanding why someone would do something that's not what I would do, because clearly whatever I would do is right. :) But you can't do that with her books. Everything is a shade of gray in her stories. No one is strictly right, no one is strictly wrong. I usually operate in very clear black and white, so it's interesting to take on this other perception.

For instance, in Handle with Care I did not agree with the mom's actions. Her child is born with a disability that could have been caught earlier during the pregnancy when she could have had an abortion. She sues for wrongful birth, even though she privately says that she wouldn't have had the abortion, she just needs the money to care for her daughter. What she did was wrong. But, in being inside her head, you understand that she's not a bad person. She honestly believes she's doing what's best for her child, that this will allow her to get her better care. You can't hate, or even dislike, someone for that.

The story is told through the mom, the dad, the older sister to the disable girl,the OBGYN (who's also the mom's best friend) and the lawyer. I think these diverse viewpoints is what helps Picoult create a world that's gray and layered. You'll feel strongly one direction, and then read the next section with someone who has the opposite opinion and be swayed that way. My opinions are usually so steadfast that this is odd and enchanting to me that she's able to get me to do this.

The story in this case also focuses on how the older sister is affected by the lawsuit. She develops an eating disorder and starts cutting herself, two things I have never understood. Again, Picoult gets inside that character's head and makes those things more understandable.

Although I love the book overall, I will agree with a lot of other readers in saying I don't like the ending. It didn't feel right. I'm not going to say the exact ending, but it felt like she was trying to recreate the shock at the end of My Sister's Keeper, but not do the exact same ending. Oddly, this book could have very easily have ending on a high note, unusual for a Picoult book, that would have been more surprising and more fulfilling. I felt like she was just trying to shock you or play with your emotions with the ending she chose. Also, I know she's the author and created the characters, but it just didn't feel right. It didn't fit with the rest of the book.

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