Second Glance, Jodi Picoult, Atria Books, 2003, 420 pp
I read this for one of my reading groups and wasn't expecting much but was rather surprised. The setting is western Vermont, on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. It is a small town with descendants of Native Americans, various troubled people and ghosts.
At first I was annoyed by chapters which read like short shorts about a variety of people. It felt like Alice Hoffman with a bigger vocabulary. But then we get the story of a woman in the 1930s whose father and husband are scientists in the Eugenics movement. This woman discovers that her real father was a Native American and the reader discovers that many Indians of that tribe were sterilized in the Eugenics program. Wow!
Back to the future, we find the woman from the 30s haunting the town and all the other characters having threads of connection to her. The woman's granddaughter is now a doctor who helps couples get the baby they want through genetic engineering, which is the brave new world of eugenics.
So Picoult has tackled a host of issues while essentially writing a love story (or actually several love stories.) I liked the way she braided the characters' storylines across generations. I approved of her intention to show that there is more going on in life than what one can see and measure. We had one of the best discussions we've had in that reading group, because of the book, and I admire the author for tackling the ethics of all this new science.
But the problem is the writing. It is just a little too lightweight despite all the big words. I imagine Margaret Atwood or Jane Smiley taking on such subjects and know that they would have gone deeper and thus taken the reader much deeper. In their hands, it would not have all worked out so neatly in the end.