Author? Author.

July 11, 2006

At Blog@Newsarama, Michael May pegs Jodi Picoult as a Hero of the Week for signing on for a short stint writing Wonder Woman. It’s unlikely that I’ll be picking up WW any time soon, as I’ve successfully purged just about everything from Marvel and DC from my shopping list, but I’m extremely suggestible when it comes to authors.

So when Picoult’s run was announced, her name went on the list of “authors to sample.” Conveniently enough, there was an audio version of My Sister’s Keeper at the library. The book is built around an interesting emotional dilemma. Parents of a desperately ill child have another to provide a source of transfusion and transplant material to keep their older child alive. The younger daughter, who has been harvested for stem cells, marrow, and platelets roughly since birth, decides enough is enough when it looks like she’ll have to give up a kidney. She sues her parents for medical emancipation.

Picoult tells the story from a variety of perspectives – the spare-parts daughter, her parents, her alienated older brother, her lawyer. The idea is to create a complex moral landscape where everyone’s point of view is understandable if not entirely sympathetic, depending on your personal beliefs. But aside from the topicality of the plot, there’s not much to distinguish Picoult’s writing from a John Grisham or a Mary Higgins Clark. (If it helps, Stephen King listed her among the Academy of the Underappreciated he praised in his acceptance speech for – choke – his Distinguished Contribution to American Letters recognition at the National Book Awards.)

Picoult is given to flat pronouncements and tortured analogies, and she fails spectacularly in making some characters even remotely sympathetic. Her idea of moral complexity isn’t dissimilar to Brad Meltzer’s, another best-selling author snapped up by DC to write some comics. Instead of weighing between competing (and hopefully equally compelling) ethical perspectives, the reader is left to weed through them to find the least objectionable, if they can be bothered. (I’m a lot more tolerant of audio books than paper versions, so I’ll probably stick it out.) It’s potboiler stuff that carries the sheen of respectability because of the controversy of the subject matter.

Does that make her an unsuitable writer for WW? No, not really, and she certainly fits in with the editorial direction the company had been taking the last time I looked. Still, it’s always a little depressing to see another writer invested with quasi-legitimacy because they write books, whether or not the books are any good.