Jodi Picoult

Study: the craft of writing

This week I've looked at Jodi Picoult's most recent novel, Small Great Things. By the way, there are NO SPOILERS in this post.

You noticed my verbs of choice? I have not read the book as a reader. Not yet. I've looked at it. I've studied it. And I will study the book some more. Then I will read it.

I am not able to study a book and read it at the same time. And, to be honest, this is my way of reading the ending first before reading the book as a reader. 

In my own writing, I have been most troubled with saggy middles and the climactic sequence. I wanted to see how Picoult deals with these areas.

And, my other reason for studying this book? The story narrates a polemical topic, which is one of the braids in my story--racism.

Picoult's story tackles this subject in a pointed and obvious manner. She uses the point-of-views of three main characters: two women and a man.

  • The man is a white supremacist whose wife just had a baby.
  • The black woman is a nurse in the labor and delivery unit of the hospital.
  • The white woman is the public defender who takes this case of the nurse against the white supremacist's accusations after his baby dies.

These three characters connect through circumstance and they begin their relationships with one another within the hospital and within the court system. The two women build a relationship when the nurse is appointed a public defender. The public defender becomes aware of how white privilege seeps into our lives.

My story is about a bi-racial family. There is a hospital involved but there's also the complexity of family love, and personality likes and dislikes among the family members. While one scene has a direct confrontation about issues of racism between two women related by marriage, the focus of my story is more on the continuum of racism. (although Picoult also deals with the continuum too) 

My pov character for the 2013 braid* is Addison, a Millennialist who treasures close-knit connections with her brother and four cousins. When the family draws together to deal with a cousin's hospitalization and to support one another, various emotions and issues come forth. 

White writers struggle to get the issues of racism and white privilege right, as evidenced by critiques of their writing. I'm thinking in particular of The Help by Kathryn Stockett and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Will white writers ever get the issue of racism and white privilege right? In our time, I think writers will, mostly, remain clumsy in our attempts but if we are earnest in our writing, it will be well worth the effort. We will create common language and better understanding as we learn. 

Have you read Picoult's book yet?  What are your thoughts? 


*My other braid is from the pov of the WWII East Prussian refugee, Amalie, who is a great-great Tante to Addison and her cousins.