After an excoriation of Nineteen Minutes, Vanishing Acts and My Sister’s Keeper last night, Jill and I determined that Jodi Picoult is actually writing romance novels gussied up to look like Big Important Literature. I personally have a great appreciation for both romance novels [good and bad], as well as Big Important Literature. What particularly pisses me off about Jodi Picoult, though, is that her writing has such transparent, sweating pretensions to Big Important Literature, but her bad form betrays her.
And by bad form, I mean that
Another example of Picoult’s bad form is her ham-handed bungling with themes and symbolism. One of the characters in My Sister’s Keeper is a fire fighter who ends up fighting a fire that his son, a budding pyromaniac, lit. The fire fighter broods extensively about fire as a metaphor for situations getting out of control, while not realizing that the situation with his family is burning out of control IN THE SAME DAMN WAY THAT HIS SON IS SETTING OUT-OF-CONTROL FIRES. I could forgive the unsophisticated irony if Picoult didn’t bang me over the head with it every time the fire fighter and the son’s viewpoints came around. Her stupidity with symbolism reminds Jill of Johanna Lindsey writing in Warrior’s Woman something to the extent of the fact that her doofus alpha male lunkhead’s name, Challen, “lacked only a G-E to make it ‘challenge.’ She wondered if it was symbolic.” Of course it’s symbolic, and, if you think your readers are impercipent enough to need it spelled out for them, you’re insulting your readers AND demonstrating what an unskilled writer you are. [NB: That’s a rare stupid moment in Lindsey’s book. The rest is pitch-perfect for what it is, and what it is is a sadomasochistic lust novel. Anyway, the stupidity that Lindsey evinces only momentarily appears terminally throughout Picoult’s work.]
Just to make it clear, I respect a good romance novel as much as a good piece of Big Important Literature. I respect even more a good romance novel that pushes the generic conventions, The Spanish Pearl by Catherine Friend being a pretty good example. And I respect Big Important Literature that uses romantic tropes and themes [anything by the Brontes, for example]. I just don’t respect romance novels that push generic boundaries BADLY, and Picoult does it BADLY. She would write perfectly zippy, compelling, melodramatic romance novels if she would just stop trying to address Important Ethical Dilemmas and Heart-Wrenching Current Events and just admit that she is writing soap operas and GO FOR IT!!
Jill says Nineteen Minutes is pretty interesting, despite a high dose of drama… At least, she says, it’s better than Vanishing Acts, which she wants me to read so we can bitch about it together. I love a good, meaty piece of schlock…