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4.33 

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Engrossing, but plot-driven and formulaic.
Apr 17, 2008 07:31 PM 2162 Views

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Real life is seldom black and white. As I read more novels by Ms. Picoult I sense she likes to play around with people's perceptions of reality and the truth. Her formula involves taking a controversial, contemporary topic, then presenting a different side to the story, effectively peeling away the obfuscating layers of people's preconceived notions to uncover the hidden core beneath.


'The Pact: a Love Story' is the story of Chris Harte and Emily Gold. The Hartes and Golds have been neighbours and friends for as long as anyone can remember. Their kids, Chris and Emily have known each other their whole lives. Inseparable as kids they share a special bond, they know what the other is thinking, can complete each other's sentences, when one gets hurt the other hurts too and pretty soon their parents see them as two halves of a whole. So, as they grow up, no one least of all their parents are surprised when the friendship evolves into something deeper. Bright, privileged and talented they seem to have wonderful futures ahead of them, Emily as a gifted artist and Chris the sports fanatic and sensitive writer.


This seemingly ideal state of affairs ends one night when Emily is found dead of gunshot wounds and Chris is admitted to the hospital. While the Hartes and Golds are shattered, they find that their troubles are only just beginning for Chris reveals that the accident was a suicide pact gone wrong. Chris is arrested as the evidence starts piling up against him. As the police and the judicial system get involved, his and Emily's already devastated parents find themselves struggling to uncover and come to terms with the truth - to understand, to forgive and to grieve.


Picoult tackles teen suicide and a modern-day tragic pair of lovers in this novel. Admittedly the parents dont have the Montague and Capulet thing going on, a very different kind of parental pressure is brought to bear on the teen lovers here. To anyone familiar with Picoult's writing style, it's more of the same here, flashbacks to the past to explain the characters and their motivations alongwith the present day criminal investigation and courtroom drama.


The flaw here is that a large part of the story involves a suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. The novel works by playing upon the fears of parents, that they never really know their teenagers. There is a parallel storyline between Chris' lawyer Jordan McAfee and his teenage son Thomas which plays out the same way. Additionally, Picoult has a psychiatrist testify that teen suicide and even empathetic suicide is a growing epidemic in modern society and that teens can contemplate suicide and suffer from depression for a variety of reasons. It's just that the reasons she hints at for Emily's suicide and Chris's actions are never fully explored or even understood by this reader. I did understand Emily's depression completely, the number of factors playing around in her head are definitely more than would be normal for any teenager. It's just that I dont think she or Chris was isolated, they had an incredible support system being upper middle-class and with supportive and understanding parents so it's almost inconceivable to me that suicide and what follows is the only option available to them.


But, can one explain suicide anyway? Picoult probably shot herself in the foot by choosing a topic that most people find almost impossible to'get'. This coupled with a thoroughly implausible ending spoiled the book for me. As Picoult tries to get us to understand, and even condone Emily's and Chris's actions, my guess is that she's walking a fine line between her readers who can get involved in the story the way she wants it to play out and the others who think that wilfully throwing a life away or taking a life, for whatever reasons, is a crime.


I cannot fault Picoult's story or her writing. She knows how to pace a novel and how to keep the reader engrossed. I ended up thinking about it a lot more than necessary for someone unconvinced by the essential scenario. I cannot fault her empathy either, she makes a credible attempt to sell to her readers the pressures a teenager might be under to even contemplate such a drastic action. It's just that this time around, I dont buy it!


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