Jodi Picoult writes issues-based fiction that’s thought provoking, upsetting, messy, complex, educational, and sometimes extremely difficult to read. She works hard to write about controversial issues from both sides, which is why she’s one of my favorite authors.
During a TV interview in the United Kingdom sometime ago (which I cannot find to share with you here), Picoult said something like: “It’s real easy to pass judgment on others until you’ve put yourself in their shoes. What would you do if it happened to you?” Indeed, the banner on her UK website reads: “What would you do?”
Of all of the issues she’s tackled, I approached Sing You Home: You Can’t Choose Who You Love with serious trepidation, knowing it was about the clash between gay rights and the Christian right.
Infertility issues and a miscarriage tear a marriage apart. Max, the recovering alcoholic ex-husband, finds love and healing in the arms of Jesus. Zoe, the music therapist ex-wife, finds love and healing in the arms of another woman. A custody/property battle ensues over pre-born babies/embryos.
Picoult captures Max’s conversion experience authentically and with great respect. That character in particular is the most even-headed Christian in the book.
That’s where Picoult’s respect for Christianity ends. Her personal beliefs and agenda were rampant throughout the book. She displays blatant derision toward faith and Christianity.
Listening to my faith being trashed was pretty hard to take. Other than Max’s character, Picoult chose an extremely fundamental, stereotypical group of individuals to represent Christianity. And the two gay women fully hate Christians.
The so-called happy ending? Max gives the embryos to Zoe and her partner, Vanessa. He also has an affair with his brother’s wife and they wind up getting married. The epilogue is from the point of view of the embryo-who-is-now-a-child who is just so lucky to have four loving parents—three moms and one dad. There’s just so much love. Who could knock that? When people love each other, it’s okay to do anything you want as long as you call it love. Screw your sister-in-law while your brother sleeps upstairs? Go ahead! Because “You Can’t Choose Who You Love.” Lord have mercy.
Jodi Picoult was interviewed about Sing You Home on The Guardian. She talks about the research she conducted for the book. It included a six-hour interview with Melissa Fryrear, a representative from Focus on the Family, which is under the umbrella of Exodus International. Here is what Picoult has to say about the Bible:
“When I suggested that maybe the Bible had a lot to say, but it wasn’t the best sex manual, for example, it also advocates polygamy, and stoning a bride who’s not a virgin, and marrying 11-year old girls, [Melissa] said, well that doesn’t matter, it’s not always God’s intent for sexual behavior. So only when it suits her purposes was it God’s intent for sexual behavior.”
The Bible advocates polygamy, and stoning a bride who’s not a virgin, and marrying 11-year old girls? Oh please. There’s rape, murder, adultery, and all kinds of nasty stuff in the Bible, too, so I guess that makes it all okay? Sheesh. Picoult found references in the Old Testament to suit her purposes as well—taken totally out of context. For being so into research, she failed to recognize that the Bible is full of stories of sin, its consequences, and redemption. Just because it’s mentioned in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s okay. It begs the question: Who’s being narrow minded now?
Takeaways from the book…
The story was extremely smart and well written. I learned a lot about what couples go through when they’re trying to have a baby, which helped me identify with friends who have been through it and a co-worker who’s going through that with her husband right now.
As a pro-lifer, I found it fascinating that the gay couple insisted on calling the embryos “property.” As portrayed in the novel, they were clearly as attached to the embryos as if they were children. It’s convenient to call pre-born babies “property” when you’re trying to get what you want.
I am now ambivalent about Picoult’s work. She doesn’t look at both sides as well as I thought she did. She can’t shut her own filter off. After all, she’s a human being with her own non-religious beliefs. With this book, she was a fiction writer with a real social agenda. As a reader, I don’t trust her anymore.
I conclude this post with chagrin. I’ve totally knocked Picoult and her book, but it’s because Sing You Home was so upsetting that I’m writing and thinking so much about it. Isn’t that the whole point of good writing?
Bravo, Ms. Picoult. You’ve gotten me thinking. But we will never, ever agree on this issue.