Monday, December 28, 2020

The Book of Two Ways

  The Book of Two Ways
Author:  Jodi Picoult
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2020. 432 pages.
ISBN:  198481835X / 978-1984818355

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "My calendar is full of dead people."

Favorite Quote:  "I believe that there are five things we need to say to people we love before they die, and I give this advice to caregivers:  I forgive you. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you. Goodby. I tell them that they can interpret those prompts any way they like, and nothing will have been left unsaid."

What do art, Egyptology, end of life support, infidelity, marriage, parenthood, quantum physics, and terminal illness have in common? All these disparate topics actually come together to form the story of this book.

I love the premise and the question this book asks. "I have heard that when you are about to die, your life flashes before your eyes." The question is who do you see? The thread of the story is there. It is about life choices, what governs them, and the regrets in life for the path not taken. However, the thread does not coalesce into an entire, moving story of me.

The book includes a lot of detail about Egyptology and about mathematics and physics. I enjoy the history, particularly about the Coffin Texts, the ancient Egyptian book of two ways for which this book is named. The metaphor, of course, is clear. Whether in this life or the afterlife, each individual has multiple paths, and the choices we make determine the path. We may make the choice, but we must accept the consequences. However, I find myself skimming through the detailed descriptions, and at times, the story appears lost in the factual details. Again, the thread about the path chosen and the path not taken is there but somewhat lost.

The book reads like a romance. It is a romance, complete with graphic scenes - on a kitchen counter, in a shower, and even one discussing a circumcision! Beyond that, the story is about infidelity with a child involved. Where that storyline ends up seems completely unbelievable.

The storyline related to Dawn's work as a death doula again pulls at the thread of paths not taken and regrets. I suppose the parallels are there to be drawn to Dawn's own life. However, that is more the patient's story and seems separate and distinct from the main plot of the book.

The ending of the book is a non-ending. I suppose the point is that it is up to each one of us to determine the path forward. However, it leaves essentially a romance about choices on a cliffhanger. Not a satisfying reading experience. Interestingly, my reason for wanting a conclusion is for some of the other characters more so than the main character herself.

That brings me to the final reason. For a romance or a book about choices to be compelling, the character at the heart of the romance or the choices must be compelling. The tragic events that altered the course of Dawn's life occur years before the story of the book begins. However, the book focuses on the choices fifteen years later, placing that tragedy at a distance. She is, in her own words, "a middle-aged woman who wonders what else her life might have been." However, "...women don't get have mid-life crises where they run off to find themselves." That, in and of itself, has the potential to be a compelling story, but Dawn unfortunately evolves into a fairly unlikable character, primarily for the way in which she treats the people in her life.

I have read several Jodi Picoult books. The books tackle difficult issues. They have made me think and have elicited a strong emotional response. I have enjoyed some more then others. Whenever a new one comes out, I feel compelled to read it. Her books deal with such serious human issues. I don't always agree with her take on the issues, but I am glad they are discussed and brought forth in this manner. Unfortunately, for all these reasons, this is the first one which, for me, does not elicit that response. At the end, this book feels like a romance trying too hard and unsuccessfully make a bigger, philosophical point.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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