Thursday, March 28, 2013
The Storyteller: A Review
I haven't enjoyed a Picoult book since she became popular, and it's always a great shame to me. Each year, she writes a new book around my birthday - March - and each year, I purchase it and am conflicted. On one hand, I will always love and envy her writing style, but on the other hand, it always feels like she is trying so hard to slam-pack her most recent novel with whatever hot-button issues she can fit into it. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that The Storyteller, while full of current events, is a beautiful read.
There was a point, near midway through the book, where I was going to read for "just 15 minutes before bed." This was around 11:30 pm. Suddenly I had read 200 pages, it was 2:30 in the morning, and there were tears streaming down my cheeks. Picoult hasn't made me cry in recent years - a feat she was easily able to accomplish in previous books - and it was good to feel touched by a book again.
The Storyteller - well - tells the story of a young woman named Sage. (she has sisters named Pepper and Saffron. I forgive her). She's seen some shit, basically, and is in a death support group for people trying to recover from the deaths of their loved ones. There, she meets Josef Webber, an elderly man who has a pet Dachshund and always seems to be friendly to everyone he meets, the town "awesome old man who everyone loves." They become fast friends, and at some point, he asks her to do the unthinkable: kill him. She was raised Jewish, and he admits to being a Nazi, and wants to be murdered. Well, what the hell do you do in this situation?
This novel pulls out all the stops. It contains a lengthy biography of Sage's grandmother, a prisoner at Auschwitz, and you can feel the tension and anxiety, the grief and the sadness, pulsing through you. You sympathize with Josef on one page, and you hate him on the next. You think Sage is a stuck-up jerk, but 20 pages later, you kinda understand where she's coming from.
Are there stereotypical, over-the-top characters? Yes, there are. (for instance, an ex-nun who runs a bakery and a barista who only speaks in haiku). Is the only other point of view character, an FBI agent whose single marital status is referred to at least six times his first chapter, clearly Sage's love interest? Duh. The story is told via 4 points of view: Sage, Leo (the handsome FBI agent), at one point in the middle Sage's grandmother, and then these short, italicized pieces that detail a story written by a character. By the midpoint of the book, I began to sort of just glance over these italicized points - they didn't seem to contribute too much to the overall book, more so just to beat a dead horse of a point home, and just didn't fit with the rest of the book. But that's my experience, and your mileage may vary. But I am willing to look past the worn-out archetypes because I believe this is a story that needs to be told.
A lot of people - myself included - tend to forget that there are a whole bunch of Nazis still alive today, as well as survivors. They are in their 90s, but they are still alive. The holocaust feels like a far-away dream, but in reality it was less than a lifetime ago, and while we are all forced to read Elie Wiesel's beautiful Night in high school, it just hits you differently when it's a work of fiction you're reading voluntarily.
Definitely go pick up a copy of The Storyteller. Drink it in, enjoy it, let the warmth run down your throat. Parts are definitely hard to swallow, but the parts that aren't more than make up for the parts that are. Fair warning, though, it will make you want to eat more carbohydrates than ever before. (two of the POV characters are bakers. Picoult loves-loves-loves descriptive sentences. You do the math).