Kidney-shaped dirty pool

July 20, 2006

I finished listening to Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. (I don’t have too much of a commute to and from work, and I couldn’t bear to bring it into the house, so it took a while.) For the most part, it was just sort of garden-variety terrible in a best-seller way – overstated and improbable, but kind of amusing partly because of those qualities.

But just before it ends, Picoult folds in two narrative twists. One could be predicted roughly from the beginning, and it doesn’t really matter anyways. Seminal as the revelation should be, it doesn’t have any meaningful impact on the characters because no character really respects any other character’s viewpoint.

You’d never see the other twist coming in a million years because you can’t imagine an author making the moral quandary that’s driven the rest of the book so thoroughly irrelevant. The book never really achieved any kind of depth or urgency, despite the hot-button material, but the finale takes deus ex machina to a completely insane place. (You know that fake-out ending in The Swinger where the lovers crash their vehicles into each other and die? Imagine if the movie had ended there, and you’ll get some sense of what I’m talking about. Come to think of it, scratch that, because it would have been awesome if The Swinger had ended that way.)

I’ve read lots of comics and books and seen lots of movies and television shows and plays, so I know that I’ve run across many misguided shock endings in my years as an entertainment consumer. And I’m sure, upon reading or watching these shock endings, I’ve asked myself, “So what the hell was the point of all the build-up if you were just going to yank the rug out from under it?” But often it’s a case of things sort of spinning out of control rather than what appears to be deliberate narrative derailment. Some creator has said, “And then, wouldn’t it be cool if…”, and nobody around them had the presence of mind to say, “Well, no.”

In Picoult’s case, it seems deliberate. It doesn’t smack of desperation – a wild stab at an ending, any ending, because nothing else came to mind. It really seems like she thought this turn of events would be fitting closure to what came before and, well, no.

I’m forced to wonder if my reaction to the conclusion doesn’t indicate that Picoult might have made me care even a little bit about her cast, at least enough to think that they deserve better, more conscientious treatment from their creator than they received. I think she didn’t. My Sister’s Keeper is one of those novels where, if anyone who mattered was able to communicate their feelings honestly and directly, there would have been no story.