Second Glance, Or How to Fit Ghosts, Eugenics, Suicide, and Native American Civil Rights into One Book

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Now, I'm all for complex story lines in books. When I'm in the mood for mental gymnastics, I pick up some epic fantasy novel or intricate period piece. I don't usually expect to work quite that hard on a book of popular fiction a la Oprah's book club. So imagine my surprise when I picked up a new-to-me Jodi Picoult book, Second Glance, and discovered a story that stretched both my suspension of disbelief and my ability to keep the facts straight almost to the breaking point.

Now, mind you, I like Jodi Picoult. I find her writing style engaging, and her characters fairly well-developed considering the kind of fiction that she writes. It's hard to have really nuanced characters when most of them are meant to stand in as archetypes for some segment or other of our society. I also appreciate that her books are usually about something, in that they examine various real-life issues in our society. You have the "should we allow people to have babies just to save their other children?" book, and the "what makes kids shoot up a school?" book. And who can forget the "atheist is converted by little girl who performs miracle" book? (OK, so I'm not quite as jazzed about that one, being an atheist myself and all, but you get my point.)

According to the book jacket, this book is about the power of family and love. Well, I suppose I can see that. The story revolves around a cast of characters in a small town in Vermont, who for one reason or another are drawn to try and solve a 70 year old murder. There is the suicidal Ross, who also happens to be a ghost-hunter, looking for the fiancee he lost in a tragic accident. There is his sister, Shelby, mother to a young boy with a rare genetic disease that will cause his early death. We meet Az Thompson, a 100 year old Native American with a secret past, and Meredith, a genetic researcher who helps couples eliminate genetic abnormalities from their unborn children. The real star of the show is Lia, who...well, if you decide to you'll just have to read about Lia yourself. All of these characters find themselves drawn together through familial or romantic love, and set the stage for one of the central questions of the book-if you love someone enough, will you follow them even into death?

I say one of the central questions, because this book poses many. What is the nature of faith? Can love outlast life? What are the moral and ethical ramifications of genetic manipulation? What does it mean to be haunted? Is suicide ever justified? Is there one soulmate for each of us? What does it mean to be "family? And not only do we examine these questions through some fairly splintered narrative, we also get treated to a history lesson on the eugenics movement in America in the 1920s and 1930s. While I was horrified by the things I learned, I didn't feel like I could give the topic the attention it deserved because too many of my brain cells were occupied trying to keep track of who was who, when they lived, how they were related to everyone else, and whether I could buy the whole ghost thing.

Despite all of this, I was invested enough in the story to see it through to the end, but whether that is because I was truly engaged or just stubborn is up for debate. I'm going to call this one a "read it if someone gives it to you for free and you don't have anything else to read" book.


  1. Sorry-I guess I should have made that more clear in the title of the post-it's actually called Second Glance, by Jodi Picoult

  2. Thanks. Jodi Picoult, for me, is hit-or-miss. I've loved some of her work, thought the rest was "meh."

  3. Genial brief and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you on your information.


Penny for your thoughts...