Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: Sing You Home

Before I get into my feelings about this book, let me say that Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult is very good. I’m not sure it’s a novel I would recommend since the subject matter is one that elicits strong emotions from people, but I do think it is worth the read.

That being said, Sing You Home is an ambitious novel. I admire and respect Ms. Picoult for taking this on. Putting a human face on homosexuality is a daunting task and one that needs to be done. She also brings this subject to main-stream America and allows people to hear, and feel, what it is like to be gay/lesbian in this country.

Zoe and Max Baxter have been trying for ten years to have a child. It’s all Zoe focuses on, and and after several miscarriages she is finally pregnant. She is close to term and at her own baby shower when things go wrong and the baby winds up still born. Anxious to try again she immediately wants to get back in the game, but finds that in her zeal to give birth she has alienated her husband who leaves her.

While Max falls into an alcoholic haze, Zoe fights depression and meets a woman she knows peripherally through her work as a music therapist. And, as Max discovers God and is born again with his religious brother and wife’s help, Zoe begins to fall in love with Vanessa.

Zoe and Vanessa marry, and on their honeymoon Vanessa offers to have the child Zoe so desperately wants, using some of the frozen embryo Max and Zoe have saved. Soon, however, a giant monkey wrench is thrown into their plans. Needing Max’s permission to take the eggs, he turns to his zealous, anti-gay, fundamentalist pastor who convinces Max that he should fight for the eggs and offer them to his brother and his wife who have been facing infertility issues of their own. In a heartbeat a media circus is swirling around them all, and the fight is on.

In the midst of all this Zoe works with a suicidal teenaged girl at the high school where Vanessa works as a counselor. Fighting to keep this girl connected to life, Zoe shines. And so does Picoult’s writing. It is in her storytelling of Zoe’s work with children, the elderly and others, using music to reach these people who are dying, depressed or lonely that the best part of the book comes out. It makes you wish Zoe was real; she is so good at what she does.

However, I do think the author bit off more than she can chew here. The book feels rushed to me, crammed with way too much to fit well into a single novel. The characters are so extremely black and white that I was left with many questions. The only truly well-rounded character is Zoe, whom Picoult takes the time to flesh out more.

And the bad guys in the story, the anti-gay Christians, are so black that they are almost cartoonish, as are those who support Zoe and Vanessa.

I really think it would have been better if the whole storyline about the trial had been left for another book. I know why Picoult put it in this book, but I found the whole plotline distracting from the core story of Zoe and Vanessa’s relationship, and I wish that she had focused solely on that.

Overall, Sing You Home shows you that a family is a family. That love is love. In one part of the book Picoult has Zoe comparing Max and Vanessa and how they relate to her. Max is extremely wrong, and Vanessa is so right, but my feeling was, it wasn’t so much because Max was a man and Vanessa a woman, rather that Max was simply the wrong person for her.

As I said, Sing You Home was an ambitious project. I’m not sure Picoult lived up to it, but I respect her for trying. If anything comes out of this novel it’s that we all need to stop judging each other for whatever reason: race, religion, body size, sexual preference, taste in music, clothing, whatever. The ways we judge each other are endless. And, as Vanessa asks at one point, why do you care what someone else is or does? Let’s try to love and support each other. Life is difficult enough without adding unnecessary burdens on each other.

1 comment:

  1. You cover this book review with intent and empathy. It does open up some emotion subjects.
    I enjoy the summing up which cover a lot of issues that people still carry around with themselves. I agree that with the lines.
    Let’s try to love and support each other. Life is difficult enough without adding unnecessary burdens on each other. It is well sized up.
    Love & Peace Dennis