Review of PLAIN TRUTH by JODI PICOULT
I love Picoult and consider her an extremely skilled writer, but I pace her books because I find them so emotionally intense! As much as I enjoy her work, I make an effort not to read more than one book by her in a year because I connect with her characters so strongly that their arduous situations strain me emotionally merely empathizing with these fictional people! PLAIN TRUTH is no exception, intense right from the start: opening with the murder of a newborn baby.
I admire how Picoult often makes circumstance the villain more than any one person. She presents consistently complex characters with different strengths and weaknesses and, most importantly, different perspectives. Most of her stories put people in situations where the reader can understand everyone’s viewpoint. These aren’t “pick-a-side” stories.
I wouldn’t know the accuracy of the Amish research, but I found all that information interesting and enlightening. The Amish theme emphasizes what Picoult does best, because neither the Amish nor the outside world emerge as either heroes or villains; instead the reader receives intimate insight into the individual minds of people from both walks of life. By presenting the reader with characters who posses such drastically different worldviews, Picoult demonstrates how prejudices and stereotypes surface and can multiply from dividing thoughts to hateful actions.
Suspense kept me reading more than anything else (again true of other books I’ve read by Picoult). I consider withholding information from the reader a fine art (click here to read my post on this topic) and usually Picoult’s utilization of suspense steers clear of the methods I find irritating - the only occasional exception being whenever characters think about something in vague terms: we’re in their viewpoint, we know their thoughts, but we don’t get to know this thought, not yet. (For anyone wanting an example, it’s the difference between an author writing “What she saw terrified her.” versus actually telling you what the character saw. If I’m in a character’s viewpoint, I like to see what they see and know what they know rather than be excluded.)
I didn’t like the book’s supernatural element. I’m an avid fantasy reader, so I love magic in my stories, but I also believe the fantasy element should add to the story. In other words, the magic should feel needed and not like an unnecessary accessory. I couldn’t see what PLAIN TRUTH’s supernatural element added, except perhaps an emphasis on the ongoing theme of lack of closure and never knowing the answer to a question. Of course, we ultimately do learn the answers to the book’s most prominent questions, so an unresolved ghost subplot might serve better with a more vague, mysterious ending.
As for said ending, I called the big twist…er, well, not really. I had numerous predictions without placing bets on any single one and the truth lurked on my lengthy list of guesses. However, while I called the who (and the culprit did rank high on my predications), I didn’t call the why. The motives both surprised and intrigued me. I anticipate other readers will also guess bits and pieces of the final picture while still discovering unexpected details near the end.
After the final dramatic revelation, though, the story cuts off without addressing the ramifications of what we just learned. Since I consider Picoult’s novels very character-focused, this technique left me somewhat discontented. Of course, the ending also implies there may not be any more ramifications than what has already taken place, so I do understand why the story ends there.
While PLAIN TRUTH can’t compete with MY SISTER’S KEEPER and 19 MINUTES in the battle for my favorite Picoult novel, it’s nevertheless a wonderful example of her brilliant writing and multifaceted characters and relationships.