Brad's Reviews > Salem Falls

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult
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Mar 15, 09

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bookshelves: mystery
Read in March, 2009

I'm not a likely candidate to read a Jodi Picoult book. I have to admit that I've always been a bit of a snob when it comes to the books that my Mom read.

She was a big fan of mysteries, but nothing classic (no Christie or Doyle), very little new or challenging (no Steinhauer or Rankin), and practically nothing genuinely pulpy (no Leonard or Chandler). She always preferred the uber-popular stuff and was a massive fan of James Patterson (and his peers), having to go out and buy the books from his mystery-mill in hardcover they day they were released.

And that's where the snobbery comes in. I tried a couple Patterson books early on, but his work is basically crap, so when my Mom discovered Jodi Picoult, adding Picoult to her list of favourite authors and telling me I should read her, I mocked my Mom's taste and avoided Picoult with an internal snicker.

But then my Mom died last month and my Dad asked me to go through her bookshelves and take anything I wanted. And there was Jodi Picoult.

Now this probably wouldn't have been enough to make me grab a stack of my Mom's Jodi Picoult books, but two other moments pushed me over the edge. First, I bought my Mom Jodi Picoult's Wonder Woman: Love Murder for Christmas. I found it during a random book store browse and thought it would be a good way to introduce my Mom to graphic novels; second, I read a recent article by Stephen King that was talking about the merits of some of our most popular novelists, praising both Rowling and Picoult while damning Stephanie Meyer (raise a cheer!) and Patterson. I am not a big fan of King's fiction, but I do enjoy his essays on popular culture and literature, so his opinions are close enough to mine to take as advice.

So I added the Jodi Picoult books grudgingly to my haul and put Salem Falls -- a random selection -- straight onto my to-read soon stack.

I finished Salem Falls last night and I can say that I was completely surprised by how good it actually was and disappointed by how good it wasn't.

Picoult is a good writer. She has serious chops. She balances multiple characters with the speed and grace of an excellent screen writer (I'm not talking about screen hacks here), giving us vivid scenes that tell the tale quickly and move on to the next important scene with no meaningless lingering. Her dialogue, though occasionally cliche, is believable and serves to make every character an individual. And her use of flashback to tell us bits and pieces about her people is superb.

I was sold on Salem Falls by page ten, and she held my attention right to the end. I didn't expect that.

Even with Stephen King's praise, I was ready to scoff at Picoult's work, but she really impressed me. Until Salem Falls shifted from an interesting story about interesting people to a boring Law and Order style courtroom drama.

And it didn't have to do that.

By the third act, Picoult gave up the creativity that was making Salem Falls a compelling read and took the conventional way out, which is a shame because the unconventional would have been so much better and realistic. You see, Picoult gave us all the information we needed to know the ending (which was a good one) early in her novel. A good reader, paying close attention, knows exactly what's going on. The problem is that her characters, smart people all (and brilliant in some cases), have the same information and never see what's happening.

So we find ourselves waiting to see how the "truth" is going to come out and save Jack St. Bride, how it's going to make the trial meaningless, how it's going to save people's spirits and the bodies of some young women, but we are let down because, apparently, the smart folks in Salem Falls aren't as brilliant as the folks reading about them.

Usually I would be a fan of people not being saved because in real life, more often than not, that is the case. People aren't saved. People go on in pain. People live with abuse that doesn't end. People hurt. And when authors are brave enough to let that happen I am generally full of praise. I would have been in this case too, had Picoult employed dramatic irony. But she didn't. There was no pertinent information we had that was withheld from the characters. They had the same access to information that we did, and they were oblivious. And I was left disappointed.

I wanted more from Picoult, and she promised more in the first two acts only to fail us in the third; still, she did enough to win me as a fan (albeit it a mildly skeptical one).

I will definitely read her again. I just hope she doesn't continue to exceed my expectations only to dash my hopes. There is only so much of that I can take.
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Comments (showing 1-29 of 29) (29 new)

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message 1: by Sandi (new)

Sandi I've been avoiding Picoult like the plague because of her extreme popularity. Maybe I'll have to re-think my position.

message 2: by Jon (new)

Jon I also have avoided her. A woman I used to carpool with recommended her and I actually have one of her books on my TBR shelf in my living room. Eventually, I'll read it ...

Thanks for the great review, Brad.

Brad Definitely give her a try, Sandi and Jon. Maybe when you're hanging out on the beach or need some escape.

message 4: by Ruth (new)

Ruth I've not read Picoult either so have no words of wisdom regarding this one or others. I think her subject matter always sounds interesting and has the potential to be an intense read, but she's not been placed on my TBR mount.

But I thorough enjoy and appreciate your reviews Brad. Thanks for sharing.

message 5: by Brad (last edited Mar 16, 2009 11:28AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brad You're welcome, Ruth. Thanks for reading. I love writing them.

message 6: by Carolyn (last edited Mar 17, 2009 06:53AM) (new)

Carolyn Brad, so sorry to hear about your mom =(

I admit, I have a similar relationship with my mom's reading habits - she also has every Patterson book in HC, as well as Danielle Steel, Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell. Also, pretty much, if it's a popular 'book club read' (or Oprah recommends it), it's on her bookshelf. My older sister has also acquired my mom's book tastes. Having said that, though, I usually surf their shelves and can find something interesting to read, just not worth me buying it. (So, I just borrow theirs... = )

As for Jodi Picoult, I do think she is a very good writer. When she gets it right, she really nails it, but if she doesn't it's still a decent book, just with a floppy ending that the reader saw coming.

I've read several of her books, but one thing I've learned about them is that they go right for the guts - serious emotional wrenches, if she gets it right. My favorite book of hers is My Sister's Keeper - had to buy that one in HC for my library after I read it - it hits home on so many levels and really makes you think about some philosophical issues. (What lengths would you go to, to keep your child alive? What is your responsibility to your sibling when looking at your quality of life vs their living? and so on...) The good kind, with no real answers, just varying shades of gray.

For me, the ending of this book was a total shocker - and I truly was not prepared for it. An intense, visceral book - for me.

I think a lot of her books are like that, but much depends on how it resonates with you and your experiences. I've found a couple to be disappointing, because I was expecting the effect of MSK, but they just didn't have it for me. I have also held off on reading some of them on purpose, because my real life was difficult enough at the moment. (Or, for example, I've decided that I cannot read Perfect Match A Novel, at least not while I have young children.) The one thing you can say with consistency about her books is that they all deal with people in grave emotional or physical crisis - just different sorts.

Anyways, I enjoyed your review as well. I haven't read Salem Falls, but next up on my list to read of hers is Change of Heart.

Brad I completely forgot about Patricia Cornwell. She was another huge favourite of my Mom's, and my Mom actually did convince me to read Cornwell's book about Jack the Ripper.

I have been trying to decide which book of Picoult's books to read next, but I am limiting myself to my stack; I think I will probably go with The Pact, although not too soon because I have so many other books on my to-read pile.

Thanks for such a huge and well thought out comment, Carolyn, and your kind words.

Amber I enjoyed your review so much! My mom, too loves that sappy Danielle Steele, grocery store type novel. And while I don't consider myself to be well-read quite enough to be considered a book snob as yet, well I'm striving. I think you will enjoy The Pact A Love Storyand I also strongly recommend My Sister's Keeperwhich I think was my favorite Picoult novel. My thoughts and prayers are with you during this loss.

Brad Thanks, Amber. What are your feelings about the film version of My Sister's Keeper? I read the interview with Miss Picoult here on GoodReads and she mentioned that they completely changed the ending. Is that going to hurt the movie for you?

Amber Well, They've turned a couple of her books into Lifetime movies. Haha. Go figure with the Danielle Steele reference. I was not very thrilled by those. Maybe this one will surprise me, but I'm not getting my hopes up. I will not be happy at all if they've changed the ending though. We'll see.

message 11: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn Argh! they changed the ending?
I will definitely NOT be watching that, then!
The ending adds a whole layer of meaning onto the entire book!

message 12: by Brad (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brad You can find the interview with Jodi Picoult here. I hope I am remembering that right. It is an excellent interview, regardless.

message 13: by Eric_W (new)

Eric_W Thanks for the most interesting review and to the others who added such intelligent comments it engendered..

message 14: by Brad (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brad I haven't got the sense that this is your kind of book either, Eric_W. So thanks for taking a read through the review.

Chrissy I was the same. I hate Patterson, don't want to read Sparks, didn't want to read Picoult. I just finished Plain Truth yesterday and was kind of left with the same reaction you had to this book. I am only on page 55 of Salem Falls. I probably shouldn't have read this review because now I know things don't end perfectly. I know enough about Picoult's writing now to know she's an alternative for me when I'm looking for something different, but I can't handle a steady appetite of her.

message 16: by Brad (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brad I find it hard to imagine that anyone could take a steady appetite of her, but my Mom devoured her, so what do I know?

message 17: by Jen (last edited Jun 23, 2011 07:02AM) (new)

Jen Hmmm... I have only read one Picoult book, and I didn't like it, but your review makes me think that I might have been too hasty in dismissing her from that one selection. A Mercy's theme just didn't do it for me. It was a selection for a book club I am in with my two sisters, and I guess the topic was interesting enough to my younger sister. Her books are most definitely thematic, so if I try her again, I'll be sure to try a topic that interests me.

I'd always avoided her before because, although some of the covers look more literary (kudos, cover designers, you tricksy peoples), the sheer volume of her books hogging so much space on a library shelf tend to make me doubt the singular worth of each publication. Which makes me a snob. And a horrible person.

message 18: by Brad (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brad I listened to an interview she gave to the Guardian recently where she actually told the reporter that she started as a "literary" writer, but her editors felt that would hinder her sales, so though she still considers herself literary her books are targeted at a wider audience. Like you with her book covers, Jen, the snob in me cringed more than a bit at her declaration of literary credentials. I don't see it in her, but she's a nice change of pace. A great fast read when I am doing the dishes.

message 19: by Jen (new)

Jen I'd really consider reading that first work, then, if it indeed is more literary, whatever it is. It might help me rule her out or give her another try. Did she mention what the title was? Was it fiction? Essay? I indulge fairly often in what I pretend is more cerebral chick-lit, although it probably is nothing of the kind, and is just a figment of my pompous imagination.

message 20: by Brad (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brad No, I don't think she mentioned it. She spoke in fairly vague terms, which made me think she wasn't quite as convinced of her literary chops as she was professing.

Darby I think you might enjoy Plain Truth. Same kind of courtroom drama at the end, but more dramatic irony and plot twists. Maybe try that one next? :)

message 22: by Brad (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brad It's been a while since I've read Picoult. I may just do that, Darby. Thanks for the tip.

message 23: by SilverRaindrops (new)

SilverRaindrops Interesting. I've not read Jodi Picoult before, and I started with "My Sister's Keeper". The reading experience was exactly the same that you described for this one. (And I would have been glad for the movie ending, the book ending wasn't to my taste at all.) I wonder whether there is a book without the drama that takes away from the characters in the end.

message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Sandi wrote: "I've been avoiding Picoult like the plague because of her extreme popularity. Maybe I'll have to re-think my position."

Be careful which ones you chose as some are wonderful and some are just awful.

message 25: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa I agree with Alice. Some Picoult's make you think you have never read anything so poignant, and then others floor you with disappointment. My personal favourites include Salem Falls, Keeping Faith and Perfect Match. I hope you find some reading pleasures

message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

Lisa wrote: "I agree with Alice. Some Picoult's make you think you have never read anything so poignant, and then others floor you with disappointment. My personal favourites include Salem Falls, Keeping Faith ..."

I like those too.

Worms and Bibliophiles try the storyteller, i have read quite a few of her books and the fact most of them end in a hauled out courtroom drama drives me nuts. but i was very surprised by the storyteller and i have to say it is by FAR the BEST picoult book i have ever read

message 28: by ChiaYi (new)

ChiaYi I felt like most of you here who cannot stand Picoult did not read the right books. I have read all. You guys should read My sister's keeper, nineteen minutes, the pact and the storyteller. these 4 are my top favourites and she wrote them so well!

Catherine my first Picoult book was "The Tenth Circle"; I need to reread since it's been at least 20 years ago and I honestly don't remember much of the plot. What I do remember is it lit a fire in me to read as many of this author's books as I could get my hands on. I am currently "listening" to Salem Falls and eager complete it. A few of her stories have stunned me: My sister's keeper, Perfect match for example. I remember I couldn't wait to see the movie for My Sister's Keeper because I wanted to see the audience reaction to the ending....imagine my surprise when when it was not what I expected. I was almost as stunned about the movie change as I was about the ending of the book. I couldn't believe she allowed the change. I do continue to read her, because the book is ALWAYS better :)

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