Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Stay Far Away From This Book If You're Republican Or Religious

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult (Washington Square Press, 2011, 496pp.)

Zoe Baxter, a musician and music therapist, desperately wants a child of her own. She and husband Max have been married for 9 years, and have spent the majority of that time (and their finances) trying to conceive. After one stillbirth and a series of miscarriages, Zoe insists on trying again as soon as possible, but the years of stress and disappointment have taken their toll on Max. A few months later, they get divorced.

After they separate, Max becomes a lost soul, slipping into alcoholism and relying heavily on the charity and goodwill of his brother, Reid, and his sister-in-law, Liddy. The two are evangelical Christians who attend the Eternal Glory Church, a rather fanatical organization that reminds me very much of the Westboro Baptist Church. Although Max initially resists his benefactors’ efforts to convert him, a narrow escape with death convinces him to “see the light” and become a born-again Christian.

Meanwhile, Zoe, who, at 40, suddenly realizes that she’s bisexual, finds the new love of her life in Vanessa, a counselor at a local high school. After a few months of dating, they get married in Massachusetts and decide to start a family using the frozen embryos remaining from Zoe’s previous childbearing efforts. The problem? The embryos are jointly owned by both Zoe and Max, and neither can do a thing with them without the other’s permission. Max, who has been reduced to a brain-washed zombie by his new affiliates, counters that he wants to donate the embryos to his brother and sister-in-law, who are also infertile and want children. What follows is a free-for-all court case that will determine custody for the embryos.

Although I know it isn’t fair to compare an author’s book to one of her previous novels, I can’t help but think of My Sister’s Keeper, simply because it was the first Picoult novel I ever read. In Keeper, which also centers on a court case with a controversial issue at stake, Picoult gives each family member a fair chance to express themselves in their tragic situation. Sing You Home, on the other hand, deploys its characters as pawns in the author’s political agenda than as actual people.

Like a reverse image of Francine Rivers’ Atonement Child, this novel almost resembles a boxing match: in one corner, you have Zoe and Vanessa’s noble cause (the fight for gay adoption rights) while in the other corner, the villainous evangelical Christians use Max as a puppet to further their own devious agenda. Oh, the humanity. With flat characters and the author’s own tremendous bias shining through every page, Sing You Home really is a sad travesty that could have been so much better.

That said, though, the author also made the decision to collaborate with a musician (Ellen Wilber) to provide a soundtrack for the novel. Filled with gentle, folksy music, it’s really quite lovely to listen to. So even if my review of the book drives you away, do give it a listen here.

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