Keeping Faith

I finished this last night because I couldn't bear to spend another day of my life with this in my purse. So why did I read it? For the same reason that many young women read books they might not be thrilled with... I had to read it for my book club (...which normally picks much more intelligent and interesting books). As I mentioned to the person selecting the book when she solicited comments about her short list of options, I've never been tempted to read a Picoult book. I doubt that I shall read another.

The short summary is this: after her parents' separation and divorce, Faith White starts talking to God (who she sees as a woman and calls "her Guard"). Faith starts healing people and develops what appears to be Stigmata. Divorce, medical things, custody battle. In short, complications ensue for father, mother, daughter, and the hot Southern television guy that's supposed to be proving Faith to be a fraud if he wasn't falling for her mom.

My irritation at this book exists on many levels. As far as being pertinent in a review, here are a few. Oh, and I'm not too concerned about spoiling things for anyone reading this review, as I hope you don't pick up this waste of trees, so if you really don't want me to spoil the incredibly obvious and uninteresting ending... Don't read any further.

1. This was an incredibly formulaic book... It's as though Picoult had worked out a system for churning out books with interchangeable characters geared to a female marketplace (Working on her seventeenth book and she's only 42, is she? You don't say!). Names and details were changed, but otherwise it was like you might see: [Insert protective mother example here!:] [Insert love scene here!:] [Insert courtroom drama here!:] I'm betting that if I picked up another Picoult book, I'd find myself in a book with the names and situations slightly changed, but ultimately, the exact same outline.

2. For a book that is essentially beach reading, it took itself way too seriously. You realize mass markets are made for beach totes, right? That's the level of the writing, the intricacy of the characters, etc. I have nothing against beach reading or silly books, believe me. I find them to be delightful when that's what you want. But this book wants to pretend that it's about religion and protecting children... and funnily enough, she gets way more preachy about what children need in the courtroom scenes rather than being preachy about the religion (where everyone seems to be rational and accepting, aside from one small spectacle on Larry King). Oh and speaking about the focus on children...

3. For a book where characters kept insisting that the main story here (be it in the media frenzy, hospital scenes, or custody case) was about Faith (the child), I actually didn't think Picoult paid much attention to Faith until the last page of the book. (And then it was to do something incredibly inconsistent with the story she was writing.) Instead, the real drama centered around Mariah, the mother. (Maybe because Picoult is aiming for a middle-aged female market of wives and mothers, who want to know that just because they're not a gold-star mom and life isn't going smoothly, they're still great and could have a happy ending?) Picoult put way more effort into the relationship between Mariah and the tele-atheist Ian (though certainly not enough to convince us that their coupling is anything but unbelievable). Faith just wanders in occasionally to talk about drowned kittens and spurt blood from her hands and side.

4. I didn't find any of the characters to be deep or complicated... Or particularly likable. The mother is needy and spineless. The grandmother is a stereotype of a strong grandmother figure. The father is an adultering asshole that the writer wants to pretend like she's not depicting as an ass, so she throws in a moment or two where he sees other kids and misses Faith, or he worries a bit about diving right into a new family. The tele-atheist is way too simplified, would never actually be interested in Faith's mom, and his big secret was incredibly obvious. And for a story where "everything is uncovered" in these people's lives by detectives and media snoops, they conveniently miss a few things which, surprisingly enough, benefits the characters you're supposed to be rooting for.

5. Picoult wants you to think she's giving you a book where things might not be what they seem, and issues are complicated... She just doesn't want to put the effort into writing that book. There came a point where I stopped and wondered if Picoult was ballsy enough to do something (aka make this not about a kid hearing God, but make this about whether or not Faith or Mariah was lying and was mentally unstable). But that was a fleeting moment. I then remembered what a predictable book this had been up to that point and sure enough, we had to endure a hundred pages or so of courtroom scenes where Picoult desperately wanted us to think that the happily ever after for mother/daughter was in jeopardy.

Those are just a few things that bothered me. Thankfully, this book club meeting isn't for another month or so. I'll rant here and to my friends for a few more days, but perhaps by the time we meet, I'll have come up with something constructive to say or have thought of some interesting questions to pose for discussion. But right now, the only thing I'm left wondering is how many times Picoult watched Contact and how hard she thought about covering up the idea that Ian's character was really just Matthew McConaughey playing for the other side?