03/29/2013 12:15 pm ET Updated May 29, 2013

The Storyteller Is Less Than Picoult's Best

Jodi Picoult has proven with her series of novels that she is a great storyteller. Now she has written a book about storytellers that is titled The Storyteller. It is filled with Picoult's amazing way with words and showcases her ability to make any story she writes fresh and innovative. This is very important because the subject matter of The Storyteller is the Holocaust, a subject matter that has been examined in just about every way possible.

The focus of The Storyteller is on Sage Singer, a young woman who attends a grief group. She is there because of the recent death of her mother. She died as a result of a car accident in which Sage was driving. The accident left Sage with scarring on her face and this makes her reticent to be seen in public. Therefore she takes a job as a baker that allows her to work at night out of the public eye.

In her grief group is a retired teacher named Josef Teller. He is quite elderly but through the course of their meetings he comes to think of Sage as his friend. Later he asks her to help him die. She of course is horrified but then he reveals to her he was a member of Hitler's Army during World War II and that he did horrible things to the Jews.

Sage is not a practicing Jew but her grandmother is. She also was part of the members of the Jewish faith who were persecuted during the war. As Sage tries to make her decision of what to do about Teller, he begins to tell her his story. In a parallel way her grandmother begins to tell her own story. These two stories help Sage decide what she needs to do.

Picoult is such a masterful storyteller that these two stories spring to life vividly in the pages of the book. The horrors of the war are revealed in much detail, but somehow the impact of these tales is muted. We know that both of these characters have survived whatever they went through and this makes their stories less involving.

Readers will also have a difficult time pulling for Sage. She is such a contrary character, full of insecurities and at odds with her life. She manages to stay rather dispassionate about the stories she hears and this in turn makes it easier for the reader to stay untouched. At least not as touched and horrified as they should be based on the horrors that are revealed.

Still the basic Picoult touches are there such as the attention to detail, the narrative viewpoint of several characters rather than one, and a final twist that will be a surprise to some readers. All of these are plusses but they do not raise the level of reading entertainment to that of her previous novels. Picoult is one of the best writers out there today but The Storyteller is only second rate.

The Storyteller is published by Atria. It contains 460 pages and sells for $28.99.