a story about stories… and a book bite about a story about stories.

This post contains my first “book bite,” which is a blurb I’ll briefly review and potentially recommend a book. In this post, I’ll address Jodi Picoult’s new novel, The Storyteller.

Recently, I attended a forum at the J.F.K. Presidential Library in Boston. At that forum, John Irving, who is my all-time-favorite author , discussed his most recent novel, In One Person , with Boston author Tom Perrotta. (

I’m not ashamed to admit how starstruck I was – but then I got distracted because I thought I saw Jodi Picoult. And then I thought I saw Jodi Picoult leave early.

So of course, I Tweeted her.

There’s probably some kind of scientific study behind this, but if there isn’t, I’m going to say it’s true anyway. My guess is that authors are, first and foremost, the people who are more likely to respond to others via social media. Their medium is, after all, words and language – and thus, computers.

Nonetheless, coming down off of my manic John Irving high and getting a reply from bestselling empress Jodi Picoult will make it to my top-ten favorite parts of my 2013. This is what transpired:

I believe in a balanced education when it comes to books, so I read pretty much everything I can get my hands on. I will read bestsellers like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl , go on to a Stephen King kick (read 11/22/63 – just do it), explore young adult dystopias ( Lauren Oliver and Veronica Roth : I’m looking at you), circle back to Betty Smith and Harper Lee, and then read every memoir ever written by hilarious gay men, because I firmly believe that Augusten Burroughs and I are friend soul mates. Last summer, I went on a kick where I read The Paris Wife WHILE IN PARIS, and then subsequently limited myself to nonfiction and fiction books that mentioned Ernest Hemingway’s band of buddies in the Lost Generation. (My husband and I went to Harry’s Bar, and then traveled in style on a train through the French countryside to Nice – with the combination of reading and doing, it was a religious experience.)

Above: On the train from Paris to Nice.
Left: My husband Kevin in front of Harry’s Bar, Paris

So, after Jodi Picoult replied to me, I checked on her expansive list of publications and found that there would be a new one coming: The Storyteller .

Photo Credit: http://jodipicoult.com/

Jodi Picoult has a pretty tried-and-true formula. She explores her plot through a variety of viewpoints (and fonts) and then finishes it up with a twist (and, usually, a courtroom scene and/or some kind of arrest). This concept works very well in The Tenth Circle and in The Pact . When I read Picoult’s work, I try to guess the twist. I am very good at guessing plot twists in most mediums – my husband has more than once scowled at me for guessing a line in a show or a movie. I guessed right in this one – I won’t reveal it here, though.

There are really four storytellers here: Sage, a twenty-five-year-old baker who pursues Nazi-turned-beloved-nonagenarian Josef Weber with the help of government official Leo Stein; a flashback series narrated by Sage’s grandmother, Minka, who endures the heartbreaking tribulations of the Holocaust; a more brief history of Josef Weber’s early years in Germany; and finally, an allegorical story written by Minka that is dispersed in italics throughout the book.

By far and away, Minka’s account that paints a grim picture of the horrors of life in Europe nearly seventy years ago is the strongest writing here. Picoult definitely did her research. Minka’s point of view is raw, honest, thoughtful, poignant, and smart. In an interview, Picoult recounts some of her research; the details which she later incorporated into Minka’s story in a very natural way.

In contrast, Sage – her granddaughter – is puzzling. She has a scar on her eye, but as a reader, I can’t bring myself to care about it (or how it contributes to her desire to be alone). Some things in her story are linked very well, including the theme of baking that transpires throughout the piece. Sage is a baker and Minka’s father was a baker, which becomes a model for the allegorical scenes. I appreciate well-done themes.

Ultimately, I’d give this one a B, and call it worth reading. It contains a number of hefty moral dilemmas. Namely: Can you ever forgive someone for unspeakable crimes against humanity? How does one atone for a sin? And, perhaps most importantly… if someone asked you to help him or her die, what would you do?