So, I'm going to ease back into book reviewing with a book that I liked, but whose content has become a little vague because I read it five months ago on the train ride home from BEA in May. I'll preface it by saying that while I've read a handful of Jodi Picoult's novels over the years, I've never self-identified as a particular fan of hers. She is, I think, a good storyteller but overall is a bit too commercial to dovetail more than occasionally with my own reading preferences. The first book of hers that I've ever read was My Sister's Keeper, and until now, that one was probably my favorite, despite my serious dislike of the book's ending.
With the publication of Leaving Time, Picoult has changed publishers, and therefore editors, and I think that, combined with the fact that her new book revolves largely around elephants, has created a new reading experience for me. Picoult never has been, and perhaps never will be, a writer of literary fiction, but she has an easy style that moves the story along without getting in the way of itself.
A psychic, a private investigator, and a teenage girl walk into a mental hospital...
...it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but this scenario actually plays a crucial role in Leaving Time. Jenna is said teenager who has retained the services of a psychic named Serenity Jones and a private investigator named Virgil Stanhope, both of whom are down & out, to help find her mother, Alice. Alice disappeared one night after a traumatic accident in the elephant sanctuary where she worked, leaving her husband so mentally unbalanced that Jenna is left to be raised by her grandmother. This trio of unlikely comrades combs through Alice's journal and her papers on elephant research as a means of tracing her current whereabouts.
Along the way, the reader is treated to astonishing situations of elephant empathy, grief, and memory. Picoult's research for this book is amazing, and when I was invited to an author dinner with her a few months ago, she regaled our table with stories, including many that didn't make it into the book. I have always loved elephants, and no doubt that is partly why this book resonated with me in a way that none of her previous books have. But I'd also suggest that incorporating animal empathy into her novel gives it an emotional heft that is lacking in her previous books.
|I mean, really. Look at that little tyke go.|
It is my earnest hope that that this novel will do for captive elephants what the shocking documentary, Blackfish, has done for captive dolphins & whales around the world. It is perhaps naïve of me to think so, but Picoult's readership is so large, and so international, that they could easily effect a social change in the way elephants are treated around the world. I hope that it becomes true. In the meantime, she educates her readers about the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, the only place in the US (and maybe the world? I'm not sure) where circus and zoo elephants can be rehabilitated (or can retire to), and for now, at least, this book has moved me to make donations to help sustain them. Fuck zoos and circuses, and don't even get me started on poachers and the Asian markets that keep said poachers employed. For them, my sentiment is more like, poke out their eyes and skull fuck them. Not that I have strong feelings about these things.
|The cute factor here -- I just can't even.|