So, for this week's 52 books in 52 weeks read, I read Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller.
Part of me wants to stop this review right there. But, as John Green might write... Andbutso I took on this project and I read the book and so I should review it.
So here goes.
The Storyteller is about a 25-year-old baker named Sage. Sage became a baker after her mother died in an accident that left her with a scarred face. Sage is sad. Sage is embarrassed by the state of her face. Sage is in a relationship with a married man. And then Sage is approached by a very old man from her grief group. He has a request. He wants Sage to kill him because he's (a) a former SS officer who ran the women's camp at Auschwitz and (b) apparently cannot be killed (he's survived a couple of heart attacks, a suicide attempt, etc.) Oh, and because Sage is nominally Jewish, he wants her to forgive him first for, like, all of Jewish mankind.
Sage isn't so sure about this killing him thing, even if he is a Nazi, so while she's trying to decide, she calls the Department of Justice's Nazi Hunter Unit, and now she has to convince the man who runs the Unit that 95-year-old-former-SS-dude isn't just making it all up for reasons that are never made clear.
There's a lot more plot -- Picoult loves multiple narrators and storylines -- but I think you get the idea with the above.
Clearly, I had some problems with this book. I mean, why couldn't SS guy just buy a gun and shoot himself? Why couldn't he just wait a little longer to die? Why did it have to be Auschwitz?
Why did there have to be vampires?
Oh, I didn't mention those? Yeah, one of the other stories involves vampires.
Honestly, I don't know what Picoult is trying to do with this book. Part historical fiction, part international mystery, part contemporary romance, part vampire, this book felt like she put Schindler's List, Bernard Schlink's The Reader, the Twilight Series, Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl and The Book Thief in a blender and this is what came out.
It's not that Picoult isn't a good writer, or that there aren't parts of this novel that aren't compelling. Her descriptions of Sage's baking, for instance, made me want to learn how to bake bread. The passages told from Sage's grandmother's perspective are a well-written (if not original) account of what it might have been like to be in a concentration camp. But what are all of these things doing together? Why is she attempting to make us sympathize with an SS officer who, if he is to be believed, wasn't just a small cog in a big machine, but the intentional murderer of thousands?
I recently read an interview with Picoult who said her next goal is to become a brand-name writer, like Patterson and Evanovich. And the cynic in me wonders if she was hoping for the Schindler's List effect to get her there (Spielberg had to make a movie about the holocaust to get an Oscar, right?).
The difference, though, is that Schindler's List was, in my opinion, Spielberg's masterpiece adaptation of journalist Thomas Keneally's book. I just can't see this mish-mash of stories based on a premise that, ultimately, makes no sense, getting her there.
But what the hell do I know? She's sold way many more books than I'm ever likely to.
So ... next week's read is Melanie Benjamin's The Aviator's Wife, which I'm very nearly certain doesn't contain any vampires. If it's as good as her first novel, Alice I have Been, it's going to be a good week.
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