Dawn, is a death doula, one who gently and passionately escorts those who are dying through this process. She is also married and the mother of Meret. Right now, though, she is on a plane, and all of that other stuff means nothing because this plane is going down and the only one she is thinking about is an old flame, Wyatt. What does this signify? Where does her heart really belong?
As usual, Picoult has managed to entangle her readers (or at least this one) in another intricately woven fabric of rich characters who walk off of the page and into your heart. As Dawn wrestles between her past, red passion for Wyatt and her current, serene comfort with her husband Brian, we feel this wrenching tension as if it is our own. When Meret struggles, we struggle. When her dying patient declines, we decline. The effect of this is that Picoult is able to render the reader sympathetic to every perspective, and as Dawn digs deeper and deeper into her quandary, we are more and more wedded to every possible outcome.
Likewise, as in her other books, Picoult has done her due diligence in her research – and here, it is on the topic of Ancient Egypt. Here we learn about this civilization’s many rites and rituals celebrating the dead and dying. We learn about hieroglyphic translations and the symbolism of the art inside their tombs. We learn that this art tells the story of the life of the individual who is buried there, and, moreover, how Egyptologists learn about the culture and society from these findings.
We also learn of a beautiful way of leaving this world. I’d never heard of a death doula, but it is a lovely idea and sounds like a wonderful luxury. To have someone to attend to the “business” of dying – not the medical issues, mind you — but the messiness of it. Taking care of your last wishes, ensuring that you get to see the people you want to see, ensuring your matters are wrapped up, having someone to hold your hand as you take your last breath. How precious is that.
This is yet another incredible work by Jodi Picoult. As readers of this blog know, I am a huge fan. Some argue that she has a formula in her work – and I see that, but for me it works. She develops intricate plots that challenge current complex issues, she creates beautiful, human, complex characters, and she writes them witty dialogue that always keeps me surprised. What more can you ask for in a novel?
SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK, DON’T CONTINUE READING!
I am curious to know what others think of the ending…. I was surprised and initially very disappointed at this one, actually. My first reaction was that it was a cop-out. However, the more I thought about it, the more I believe it was fully intentional and not just avoidance. Going along with the theme of “two ways” and Brian’s physics theory, maybe she imagines there is a way for her to be choosing both? Meret certainly got 2 dads here, as it happened, right? Or maybe it is just symbolic of how so many times, we want to go in 2 directions at the same time and decisions in life are hard. But these decisions often impact the ultimate direction of our lives in so many ways, setting us on a path that we cannot possibly foresee.