Sunday, November 08, 2009

Book 4: The Pact

This is the second novel I've now read by Picoult, and while I wouldn't add her to my favorite authors by any stretch, she does a good job of creating engaging stories that make me want to keep reading.  Of course, I've noticed I'm not exactly discerning when it comes to books - while I don't often react with ''Oh my god, I loved it,'' it is also very rare for me to say I disliked a book.  In general, I tend to have reactions of ''I liked it.''  This might be because I'm easy to please or I generally know how to pick books that I will like - who knows.
Having said this, after two novels, I can already see some general themes with Picoult - in a way, it seems like her audience is very much the kind of middle class, white housewife that talk shows like Oprah are aimed towards.  They tend to very much revolve around the husband and wife with 2.5 kids kind of household - the perfectly normal, loving family who have everything going for them except for that one big tragedy or issue, be it cancer (My Sister's Keeper) or teen suicide (The Pact).  Despite this, her characters are engaging and seem well-developed.  The other thing I've noticed is that her writing isn't exactly subtle - how exactly does that saying go - if there's a gun revealed in the first or second act, it will go off by the third act?  Yeah, her clues in her novels can be rather obvious.
As the novel begins, Picoult introduces two families that have been neighbors and best friends for the past eighteen years - the Hartes and the Golds.  Their oldest children, Emily and Christopher, are only a few months apart in age, and grew from being attached at the hip as children into a couple as high schoolers.  Within the first few pages of The Pact, both sets of parents get a call about their children being at the hospital.  Once they arrive, it turns out the Emily is dead of a gunshot wound to the head, and Chris is alive.  The weapon is from the Harte's gun cabinet.  Was it a suicide pact as Chris claims or did he kill her?
As the novel progresses, more and more is revealed about the characters, and even though I had a pretty good idea of what happened (thanks to that gun in the first act), I still wanted to know if I was right, and what exactly may have been the motive (for the murder or the suicide).  Despite being easy to figure out, Picoult still writes in a manner that keeps the story going.  Also, like My Sister's Keeper, The Pact had a lawyer that doesn't want to get too close to his clients as well as the big court reveal.  Still, formulaic isn't necessarily a bad thing nor is it uncommon for authors to have stock characters.  And I may just have chosen the two novels that happen to have these similarities - it doesn't necessarily mean it applies to the rest of her work.
In case anyway is interested, and since I really wanted to mention it, I did want to discuss the whole ''gun in the first act'' thing that I feel gave away the end of the story.  Since the novel flashes back and forth between present and past, the reader can see how the relationship between the two families and Chris and Emily develops (some of the issues Emily was having with their changing relationship were rather interesting).  Of course many of the vignettes were important to just showing their day-to-day life with each other as well as what may have influenced them but one scene in particular seemed like it was only there to explain later on why Chris may have acted the way he did.  His father is a hunter and had a few hunting dogs.  One of his dogs became sick enough to need to be put down.  Instead of speaking to Michael Gold, a vet, James took the dog out hunting one last time and shot him.  As he saw it, it was his dog whom he loved and as a result he owed to the dog, and also this way, the dog would die happy.  Given this scene as an example, is it any surprise to see that Chris might associate love with making tough decisions and helping someone they love die?  Another point where Picoult's writing wasn't exactly subtle was during a prank involving the guy's bathroom at a fast food restaurant, but I don't really feel the need to get into that one.

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