Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

11Nov06

Synopsis:
When a dead baby is discovered in an Amish barn, a Plain girl finds herself on trial for murder. She says she can’t remember… then all she wants to do is confess. But is she actually guilty–and of what?

Review:
This is the book I was referring to yesterday when I said I was reading a salty book with no umami. The main reason I don’t like courtroom books is that they’re so formulaic. No matter how intriguing the setup or tantalizing the scenario, Act 3 is always going to play out in just the same way, with surprise revelations, dramatics on the witness stand, and the attorney at the center forever changed for the better. And, of course, the truth will out in the end, if only in private. This book was no exception. I read My Sister’s Keeper by Picoult and really enjoyed it, and I’ve got another of hers in my stack, which I will read, but if it’s more Plain Truth than Sister’s Keeper, that’ll be it for me ‘n’ Jodi.

The book is about the Amish, a subject I am familiar with from spending 4 years in college in Lancaster. One major problem I had with the writing is that Picoult couldn’t seem to understand that the Amish were still people, despite their differences. Just because people live a simple, ordered life doesn’t mean that they are not passionate, or complex, or deep, or thoughtful. Energy might get channeled in a different way, but it still exists. Picoult portrayed the Amish as children, and I yearned for her to go deeper with them. Several of the key Amish characters, like Katie’s father, were relegated to the background, and I felt that was a big missed opportunity. The book made me feel like a tourist, not an insider.

Second problem I had was that she switched POV rather capriciously. Some of the chapters were told from the first-person POV of Ellie, Katie’s defense attorney. But other chapters presented Ellie’s POV in the third person. There seemed to be no reason for the switch in technique. There were sections that gave Katie’s third-person POV in italics because they were flashbacks, but these sections were intermittent and felt totally expository. The detective investigating got a third person POV at the beginning, then dropped out, while the prosecutor got a very internal third person POV right at the end, where all of a sudden it was like he was Macbeth giving a soliloquy. I found this to be sloppy writing, honestly, and it hindered my ability to connect with the characters.

I should mention, albeit rather shame-facedly, that one scene in this book made me tear up on the subway. I rarely cry at books. But I am a sucker for certain kinds of sentiment, and this book hit it right on the nose.

Plain Truth

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