This Jodi Picoult book embodies the theme of disappearance, and how it plays a painful yet sometimes liberating role in a handful of characters’ lives.
The main character of the book is Delia, who lives with her father, Andrew and 5-year old daughter, Sophie. Forming a courageous search-and-rescue team with her dog Greta, Delia works with the police to find missing persons.
When the book opens, we are first given a character sketch of Delia. She is loved equally by the two men in her life, Fitz, a childhood friend and journalist, and Eric, who is the father of her child and current fiancée, only because it took him a while to prove to Delia that he is no longer in the grips of alcoholism.
Delia’s mother died when she was very small, in a car accident, and although she fantasises about the relationship she lost with her and reminisces about the struggles she experienced as a result of having no mother, Delia is happy with her life.
Then one day, quite unexpectedly, her father is arrested and taken off to prison. It is through this upheaval in their otherwise seemly normal lives that all the characters learn more about themselves, each other and the things that matter in life.
Each chapter of the book, starting off with Delia’s introduction, is written through the viewpoint of Andrew, Fritz, Eric or Delia. This helps tremendously with letting the reader feel s/he is getting ‘all sides of the story’.
What I did not initially enjoy about this technique, is that all the characters, although seemly diverse in character, have the same “writing style” (or “thinking style"), which I guess is wholly Picoult’s.
Later in the book, we discover that Fitz is actually writing the story of their lives, which opens the exact same way as Vanishing Acts. This in turn, made me feel I was losing credibility of the character and events that took place, because how could Fitz know about some of things that happened to Andrew in jail?
When Delia discovers his ‘book’, she reads through a lot of it in one sitting, and then takes the rest of the pages home with her, quoting, “I want to know how it ends.”
Does this mean Fitz’s version of Vanishing Acts was then already completed while Picoult’s version was still continuing as I read? I found this very confusing, and kept wishing that Fitz never had anything to do with writing at all. It’s like Picoult was trying a cool new-age writing technique she had heard about, but did it badly.
Not all bad, though: there are some real beautiful soul-words in there – like when little Sophie says to Fitz, “It’s how you say mommy’s name that I know you love her. You say it like it is covered in blankets” – but some of them are a bit over the top.
Furthermore, Picoult’s attempt at gettin’ down wiff da dawgs and writing her own jail-house rap compilations made me snigger a bit, as well as a few cringe-worthy jokes like:
Delia has a scratch over her eye from running with her dog through low hanging branches.
Fritz: “What does the other guy look like?”
Delia: “It was a tree.”
Fritz: Geez, I always heard their bark is worse than their bite.” (Doo-doom-doom-shhh)
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I would recommend anyone to read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver which is written with a similar diverse character narration style, but each chapter’s language stays true to the attitude and even age of the character. Plus, it’s not at all cheesy.
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