Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Handle With Care

Handle With Care
Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult’s novels have acquired a stigma for being slightly formulaic, and while I agree with this, having read about twelve of her books, I believe this heart-wrenching story deserves recognition for its ability to render a point in time from the inside out. Picoult’s novels generally follow a similar structure. She generates a multi-layered situation, often centring on a child or young person, and incorporates multiple perspectives to unravel the truth behind what is usually a controversial incident. Typically, all is not what it seems, and a deeply buried secret surfaces at the novel’s close, upends the reader’s understanding of the plot thus far and presents it all in a new light. Handle With Care is no exception to this structure, but I feel the Picoult has outdone herself with this tale of a young girl with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease. Willow O’Keefe is an exceptionally bright young girl whose disability has impaired not only her mobility and growth, but her family’s financial security. The necessary expenses of a disabled child become an overwhelming burden for the family, and within the foreseeable future, there may not be enough money for the family to survive. Charlotte, Willow’s mother, is presented with an opportunity to sue her obstetrician for wrongful birth, meaning that had she been alerted to Willow’s condition at the right time during her pre-natal care, she would have considered termination. In true Picoult style, Charlotte’s obstetrician is no stranger, she’s her best friend. Handle With Care differs from some of Picoult’s previous works in that it presents the truly ugly side of a mother, father, and a teenage child. Charlotte is arguably an unlikeable character, in that she seems to forgo the needs of her best friend, husband and eldest daughter in order to satisfy Willow’s. Predictably, perhaps, this raises the question of whether the needs of a disabled person should be prioritised over other family members, particularly when one of those people is facing a crisis of their own. The conclusion you may draw from this may surprise you. Picoult remains subtly anti-abortion throughout the novel, particularly through the depiction of Willow, whose obsession with trivia is a charming character trait. As a character, Willow presents the argument that, had she been terminated in the womb, she would not have grown into the person she has become.
Jodi Picoult has earned the reputation of a very successful author with good reason. She has generated a niche for emotionally tangled dramas in the literary world, and I do not hesitate to recommend her books (with the exception of Change of Heart – ugh!). Handle With Care also has a plot twist which, as a devotee of Picoult, I should perhaps have seen coming – shocked and devastated me. I encourage you to try Handle With Care, as it’s a prime example of Picoult’s authorship – a wonderfully complex book written in a simple style which grasps a difficult concept by the horns and explores it from the inside out.

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