Review: Vanishing Acts

Review: Vanishing ActsVanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
Published by Washington Square Press on November 15, 2005
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 426
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

Delia Hopkins has led a charmed life. Raised in rural New Hampshire by her widowed father, Andrew, she now has a young daughter, a handsome fiance, and her own search-and-rescue bloodhound, which she uses to find missing persons. But as Delia plans her wedding, she is plagued by flashbacks of a life she can't recall. And then a policeman knocks on her door, revealing a secret that changes the world as she knows it." In shock and confusion, Delia must sift through the truth - even when it jeopardizes her life and the lives of those she loves. What happens when you learn you are not who you thought you were? When the people you've loved and trusted suddenly change before your eyes? When getting your deepest wish means giving up what you've always taken for granted? Vanishing Acts explores how life - as we know it - might not turn out the way we imagined; how doing the right thing could mean doing the wrong thing; how the memory we thought had vanished could return as a threat.

Jodi Picoult is one of the most popular contemporary authors. I have read and enjoyed (to varying degrees) three of her other novels. For one of my classes at Pitt, we read My Sister’s Keeper, or were supposed to. I had read the book prior to taking the course and did not reread it. That one was my favorite of the Picoult books I had read. Imagine my surprise when all of my friends hated it. They said the writing was absolutely atrocious.

In my reading of Vanishing Acts, I paid way more attention to the construction of the novel than I ordinarily do on a first time through a book (in which, unless the story is absolutely awful, I focus on the plot and the characters). I still thought the story itself was engaging, but I definitely found weaknesses in the characterization/writing. The main problem is that, if the fonts were not different for each character, I would constantly have been forgetting which character’s point of view I was currently reading. They lack a unique voice. And even when they were freaked out about something, they all continued to read as a bit disaffected.

Although changing the font for each different character is neat, I really think you ought to be able to tell which character is ‘speaking’ without needing that. Or even without a heading. Also, I have to admit that I was annoyed by the similarity between Andrew’s (Delia’s father) and Eric’s (Delia’s fiancee) fonts. Is Picoult (or the publisher) trying to suggest that Delia has serious Elektra complex type daddy issues? Or were they just too lazy to find another font that looked entirely different from the others? There are thousands of fonts; how hard can it be?

All three had two things in common, despite their differing plots: a focus on family and a twist at the very end. The twist here was…pretty much nonexistent. The only things that could maybe called twists are Delia’s continual rediscoveries of memories and a ‘revelation’ that was completely unsurprising given the discourse of the previous chapters.

A decent read on an interesting subject, but not an astounding book. Now for some lyrics! (This song was also selected because alcoholism is a huge topic in this book; about half of the characters are, were or were related to alcoholics).

“And there’s a memory of a window, looking through I see you.
Searching for something I could never give you.
There’s someone who understands you more than I do.
A sadness I can’t erase, all the love on your face.”

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