Review Roundup: 'The Storyteller,' by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult, prolific bestselling author of novels that confront controversial social issues such as end-of-life care ("Lone Wolf"), gay rights ("Sing You Home") and school shootings ("Nineteen Minutes"), started a literary controversy a few years ago when she noted that the New York Times' book coverage reserves its highest praise for "white male literary darlings." Fellow bestselling novelist Jennifer Weiner joined the fray, saying, "it's a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it's literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it's romance, or a beach book... it's something unworthy of a serious critic's attention." Picoult recently stirred those embers again when the Times asked her about her comments on the gender imbalance in reviewing; she pointedly said, "I don't mind the term 'chick lit.' I don't happen to write it, so I think it's funny when people assume I do just because I happen to have a vagina."
Still, there's a split among responses to Picoult's work between those who engage with it critically, and those who largely connect with it emotionally. The subject of Picoult's latest novel, "The Storyteller," is certainly fraught: The granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor befriends an 95-year-old German man, who confesses to her that, decades ago, he was an active Nazi--and asks her to kill him.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch calls "The Storyteller" "engrossing"... "seamless and graceful." Several reviewers were emotive: In Booklist, Misha Stone writes, "I finished 'The Storyteller' in tears," and Terri Schlichenmeyer chimes in for The Daily Nonpareil, "I squirmed, I got teary-eyed and I have to admit that I had to switch to a different book before I went to bed." The Globe and Mail elaborates on Picoult's appeal for her fans: "Picoult's style rarely wavers: straight-shooting, fast-paced sentences, plenty of arcs and climaxes and quick, witty dialogue that refuses to skirt the issues." Indeed, Picoult takes her straight shooting beyond her books. In an interview about "The Storyteller" in The Chicago Tribune, Kevin Nance writes, "Picoult pulls no punches.... the author is frank to the point of bluntness. If you're a fellow writer and she doesn't like your work, she'll say so--publicly."
Some have done the same regarding Picoult's work: USA Today gives the book two out of four stars, calling it "a big mess of a novel that veers wildly between thought-provoking and cringe-inducing.... At its best moments, "The Storyteller" thoughtfully, even powerfully, grapples with complex moral questions. But too much of this novel just seems forced and frivolous, leaving an unpleasant aftertaste--like a gooey pastry you know is bad for you but just keep eating."
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