I sort of feel split on this one…
I loved the concept of the novel: a man who studies wolves so closely he becomes a member of a pack (well, several packs), is in a horrific accident and his family must decide whether or not to pull the plug on his life support. If you’ve ever read a Jodi Picoult novel, you sort of know the drill; a controversial topic told from multiple perspectives usually revolving around a judicial trial of some kind. Nineteen Minutes, The Pact, Handle With Care, My Sister’s Keeper, and Plain Truth (to name most) follow the same basic outline as this novel, one of her newer works…but this one fell a little below the mark for me.
The basic argument of the novel, whether or not to terminate the life support of Luke Warren, is embodied by Luke’s two children: Edward, 23, and Cara, 17. Since their mother was divorced from the patient, the responsibility falls to their children to make medical decisions for him…and since Cara is just below the age of majority, the responsibility falls to Edward. BUT, Edward and his father had a major falling out and hasn’t spoken in 6 years, whereas Cara had been living with him exclusively for four years at the time of the accident, and makes it quite clear that she wants her voice to be heard, especially since she is the one fighting to keep him alive. So who should have the final say?
The main characters, to me, fell flat in this book – namely Edward and Cara. It almost seemed like Picoult needed the two kids to be dead-set in opposition, and forced them to be there until she was finished with what she needed to accomplish with them. It felt forced, flat, and fake, and at times I just wanted to skip ahead in the narrative because I’d heard their positions already and both of their arguments were completely futile – they were both incredibly stubborn. Edward was more believable that Cara, and more likable; she was very whiney, immature, and unlikable through most of the novel.
Reader beware, spoilers abound in the next paragraph; Skip if you’d like to be surprised!::
Outside of those two, I found three other characters just as annoying – Georgie, Luke’s ex-wife, her husband and Edward’s lawyer, Joe Ng, and Danny Boyle, Cara’s lawyer. Outside of how irritating the narrator’s voice was for Georgie, I did not understand her as a character. If she was willing to marry Luke Warren in the first place, and put up with him for 18 years, including his departure for 2 years to live with the wolves in the Canadian Wilderness and his re-adaptation back into civilization, why would she have left him then? First of all, I don’t believe that Luke Warren would have cheated on his wife – the man went 2 years without sex of any kind, and reveres an animal that would do anything and everything for family, I don’t think he’d be bunking the interns. The story just sort of fell apart for me, near the end. Joe Ng, the man who married Luke’s ex-wife, is utterly insecure about his relationship with her. He seems to be in awe over her even though they’ve been married with children for several years (also, Georgie’s new kids are constantly referred to as ‘The Twins’…who does that?). Both Joe and the other lawyer, Danny Boyle are not very consistently written, and their ‘parts’ in the novel are quite insignificant.
Hands down my favorite character in this novel is Luke Warren – yes, the guy in a vegetative state. Although during the ‘present’ struggle the main characters are going through Luke is completely unresponsive, Picoult throws in many tid-bits of his research and his life story; many times it had parallels to the ‘current’ situation discussed in the book.
There is a piece in all of us (I hope to think) that longs to re-connect with nature. I am part Native American (a very small part) and I am absolutely fascinated with the respectful way of life many tribes seemed to have, and their belief systems. My mom & I have medicine cards that teach us the medicine of each animal, and what we can learn from them, and what it may mean when we encounter them in our lives (either in dreams, thoughts, or in real life). Those cards are one of my favorite possessions.
The wolf is a fascinating animal that we can all learn from – they will do anything and everything for the good of the pack – their family. They are not particularly violent, but cautious & protective. I feel like Picoult’s research on the animals was impeccable & I’m motivated to learn more about them. Although Luke is a fictional character, there is a real man, Shaun Ellis, who lived the way Luke does in the novel, where Jodi drew much of her inspiration and did most of her research.
Because wolves are so fascinating, I thought I would share some facts about them with you guys::
-Beta wolves, not the Alphas, are the ‘tough guys’ of the pack, and will rush out to test any visitors or outsiders before any other member of the pack.
-An Alpha female wolf has many uncanny abilities: She can influence other female wolves to not go into heat, she can fake a pregnancy (which puts the rest of the pack on their best behavior…thinking there will be little ones around), and even terminate her own pregnancy, if need be.
-The Alpha directs the pack, completely. She dictates which animal to kill out of a group, who eats what, and can hear changes in a heartbeat rhythm from six or seven feet away.
-Even the ‘runt’ of the pack serves an important purpose. They are called the Diffuser wolf, the one who is always getting picked on, and who purposefully jumps into all arguments and fights. His/Her job is to diffuse the tension; to prevent large disruptions within the pack.
Look at how beautiful these animals are. I would recommend everyone to read this book just for Luke Warren’s perspectives. Much of it may be fictional, but it was some of the best fiction I’ve read in a Picoult novel.
I got a little tired of Jodi Picoult’s ‘formula’ here. In this case I felt much of the ‘typical’ features she had in this book were unnecessary. The temporary guardian-the lawyers & trial-were they really necessary? Could it not have just been a family struggle? If she’d toned down Edward’s initial reactions, much of the most unsuccessful parts of the story wouldn’t have been necessary. I’ve read in a few places that people felt like this book must have been rushed by a publisher or something. Perhaps that was an issue, but to me it seemed like the author was stuck on an idea and was unwilling to change for the sake of the story and characters she created. I’ve never really understood what authors (like Stephen King) mean when they say ‘I create the situation and let the characters go where they will’ (not a direct quote…paraphrase!), until now. I think this is the first example I’ve come across where it’s been apparent that’s not what happened.
All in all, I’d give it about a three. I’ve definitely read better books of Picoult’s, but as always (with the exception of Songs of the Humpback Whale), it was a pleasure to read, and it always kept me wondering…she’s been known for plot twists and surprise endings after all.
Until Next Time,
P.S. – My best friend just read The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult’s newest novel, just released), and said it was her new favorite of Picoult’s. I plan to read it when it comes out as paperback!