Pi­coult tack­les con­tro­versy on abor­tion in ‘A Spark of Light’

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Read - BY CYN­THIA DICKISON Star Tri­bune (Min­neapo­lis)

Jodi Pi­coult has tack­led, as she once ticked off for an in­ter­viewer, “neonati­cide, the death penalty, mercy killing, stem cell re­search, the right to die, gay rights” in her long ca­reer. What could be left?

For her 27th novel, the con­tro­versy du jour is abor­tion – specif­i­cally, a shoot­ing at a fam­ily plan­ning clinic in Jack­son, Miss., and how lives in­side the build­ing and out are touched over the course of one long day.

This be­ing Pi­coult, of course, there is a gim­mick.

She tells “A Spark of Light” back­ward. Be­gin­ning at 5 p.m., each chap­ter jumps back an hour un­til it’s break­fast time. This has the ef­fect of peel­ing back the lay­ers of the char­ac­ters and their mo­ti­va­tions – the doc­tor whose mother died from a botched abor­tion, the un­der­cover provo­ca­teur, the am­biva­lent pa­tient, the girl fac­ing mur­der charges, the gun­man him­self – but it also con­trib­utes to a con­fu­sion that’s per­haps re­flec­tive of such a trau­matic in­ci­dent.

There’s a Ja­nine and a Joy and a Bex and a Beth, and it takes a few mo­ments to re­mem­ber who’s who and what’s their back­story. Thank­fully, the nar­ra­tive keeps re­turn­ing to 15-year-old Wren, who has come to the clinic with her trusted aunt to ob­tain birth con­trol, and her po­lice of­fi­cer fa­ther, who is (rather un­eth­i­cally) over­see­ing the hostage op­er­a­tion.

Dad and daugh­ter are the heart of the book, the rea­son to keep read­ing – at least un­til an 11th-hour twist that is best ig­nored.

Pi­coult has done her re­search (the af­ter­word de­tails the hun­dreds of in­ter­views she con­ducted), and she treats the sub­ject with ad­mirable even­hand­ed­ness. Yet it’s ob­vi­ous where her sym­pa­thies lie. Will this turn off some of her loyal read­ers? More likely, some minds on both sides will be changed, or at least chal­lenged, by Pi­coult’s thought­ful prose.

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Jodi Pi­coult

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