Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Are Jodi Picoult's Books Mysteries? Two Sides...

Dave kept me company this morning for Jodi Picoult's opening reading of her US tour for the new book HANDLE WITH CARE. I phrased that description of Dave's presence carefully, because he was one of only about six men in the crowd of 150 in Norwich, Vermont. That's a bit more balanced than last year's Norwich event for Picoult's CHANGE OF HEART, when Dave was one of only two fellows in the audience ... but still, he says that Picoult is writing a form of women's literature, and he doesn't have the book on his short list for the month (yet).

Which to me makes no sense at all! Picoult's novels, loosely grouped on her web site as "novels about family, relationships, and love," are intense and tightly plotted medical/legal thrillers. So what's the difference between her legal fiction and John Grisham's -- percent of pages in the courtroom? Or between her medical twists and those of Michael Crichton? Hers are within the family and the risk is that much higher for her protagonists, I believe.

No, if the difference boils down to how carefully Picoult details the dynamics of people who care about each other, then I'm going to compare her work to, say, the crime novels of Andrew Vachss, where Burke's relationships with his friends are his salvation, and his heartaches cost him endlessly. Or to John Lescroart's police/legal twisters, where the conflict between the two sides of justice gives depth to the lifelong friendships that make up the tapestry of his series.

Another aspect of Picoult's work to ponder is the dedication of her fans: They don't just purchase her books and share them -- they also agonize with her over how Hollywood changes her story (MY SISTER'S KEEPER comes out as a film this June), exult at reappearances of characters from one book in another, and ponder the ethical dilemmas that Picoult embeds in the thrillers that she writes.

Well, I've got to sit down and start reading. I guess I'll let Dave cover the noir material this week, while I burrow into HANDLE WITH CARE. And that's my final bit of evidence for my argument that Picoult's work belongs in the mystery genre: Hey, I'm reading her books, and mysteries and poetry are my top picks, always!

PS: I just read this to Dave, and he agreed, after all, that Picoult's books are mysteries -- and more than that. But I think he's still going for the noir.

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