Sunday 21 March 2010

Handle with Care

This was the reading group’s book of the month for April, and the first time I’ve read a book by Jodi Picoult. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found the novel very disappointing. The writing is fine, if on the simple and easy reading variety. But the plot was to me plain implausible.

The novel is about the O’Keefe family’s travails in bringing up a child who suffers from brittle bones, or osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), to give it its proper name. The family find out from an scan at 27 weeks that their baby has OI, but go ahead with the birth and spend the next five years or so caring for their child, Willow, with all the difficulties, stresses and expenses that this involves. So far OK. Then, by chance they discover that they might be able to win a very, very large sum of money to help care for Willow. However to do this means they have to sue the hospital for wrongful birth. Which means in effect that if they had known earlier, at 18 weeks, that Willow had OI, they would have aborted her. Now, these things happen, but in this case it is just absurd. For everyone knows, even the family’s attorney, that there is no way that this couple would have aborted their baby. The parents, Charlotte and Sean are practicing catholics and everything that we hear about them - from their own mouths - makes clear that they would never have chosen an abortion. Charlotte is only doing this for the money. She is prepared to lie on oath - all for the money. Even her husband, the baby’s father, decides to testify for the defence, as does their other, older daughter. Yet somehow Charlotte wins the case - seems pretty unbelievable to me.

What makes the novel even worse is that just about everyone of any import has their own personal issues. To start with the person they have to sue - the obstetrician, is Charlotte’s best friend. Their attorney is adopted and is trying to find her birth mother. And as a result of the case all the other relationships break down. Charlotte and Sean separate and he files for divorce. Their elder daughter suffers from bulimia and self harming. The obstetrician and her husband drift apart. It quickly descends into an average made for TV melodramatic tearjerker.

Despite winning the case the family derive no real benefit and the ending is just so far fetched as to make a mockery of the whole novel. A real cop-out of an ending. The novel is written as if it was the memoirs of the main protagonists, at least all those in the O’Keefe family, plus their attorney and the obstetrician. So there is no pretence to offer a balanced account, which would have given us other voices. The novel does raise some serious and important issues about children with disabilities, parenting, lawsuits for example. Unfortunately this particular novel does no justice to any of them.

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