At some time or another, everyone was failed by this world. Disappointment was the one thing humans had in common.
Taken this way, Ross didn’t feel quite so alone. Trapped in the whirlpool of what might have been, you might not be able to drag yourself out — but you could be saved by someone else who reached in.
(from Second Glance, page 374)
It’s been a long time since I read a Jodi Picoult novel, mostly because they started to feel the same to me, with a focus on court trials and exploring the gray areas of such hot topics as bullying and organ donation. Second Glance was a breath of fresh air because the issue of eugenics is important to the story but doesn’t overshadow the ghosts, grief, and a 70-year-old murder mystery.
Second Glance focuses primarily on Ross Wakeman, a man who longs to reconnect with his dead fiancée through death, but when he finds that he can’t die, he becomes a ghost hunter instead. Unable to connect with Aimee or move on with his life, he visits his sister, Shelby, who struggles to maintain a normal life for her young son, who is afflicted with a genetic disorder that prevents him from being out in the sun. While in the small town of Comtosook, Vermont, Ross volunteers to investigate the strange happenings on a plot of land slated for development, which the Abenaki tribe claims is an old burial ground. During the investigation, Ross meets Lia Beaumont, a young woman who makes him feel things he hasn’t felt since Aimee’s death.
Picoult weaves together Ross and Shelby’s stories with that of a 102-year-old Abenaki leader; a geneticist and her young daughter, who is frightened by the ghosts she sees everywhere; a nursing home resident on the cusp of death whose past comes back to haunt him; and a policeman intent on solving the 1932 murder of a young mother. This young woman narrates the most interesting section of the book. Set during 1932, it brings to life a little known piece of history about the Vermont eugenics movement, in which the state’s sterilization law was used to get rid of undesirable characteristics in certain families believed to be too much in need of the social welfare system (criminals and those plagued by mental illness, among others), with the goal of wiping out future generations so that these characteristics aren’t passed down. Picoult contrasts this failed “experiment” (which apparently became the foundation of the Nazi eugenics program) with the work Meredith does as a geneticist in screening embryos for certain conditions so that parents can make more informed decisions about the children they bring into the world.
Second Glance is a book that requires a lot of patience from the reader. Picoult introduces numerous characters in the first 30 or so pages, and it’s difficult to keep track of them at first. But as the story progressed and the characters’ connections became clear, I found it easier to follow and harder to put the book down. However, what kept me from loving the book was the fact that once I put two and two together, it started to feel slow in getting to the ending that I’d already seen coming.
Yet, there are so many things that make the novel worth reading, from the historical fiction elements about the Abenaki and the eugenics program to the wonderfully flawed characters and their struggle to overcome the various obstacles that have made them nearly give up on life and love. Picoult even handles the ghost story in a tender way that makes it seem plausible. Readers shouldn’t pick up Second Glance expecting it to be just like other Picoult novels, such as Nineteen Minutes, My Sister’s Keeper, or Change of Heart. This one requires more from the reader due to the intricate and sometimes convoluted plot, but I think that’s what I liked best about it. It’s worth the struggle at the beginning to see how everything falls into place by the end.
Disclosure: My copy of Second Glance was a gift from a friend. I am an Amazon associate.
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.