Book review: The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

I was always afraid to read Jodi Picoult’s books. Thanks to an Oprah’s Book Club review and interview with Picoult of My Sister’s Keeper, giving me the impression that I would never emotionally recover from her stories. I mean, if Oprah was scarred or had some deep wound brutally ripped open, I didn’t think I’d stand a chance.

Fast forward to social distancing and quarantine days and TBR lists pile up like we’re in a pandemic or something.

The Book of Two Ways was not in any way a book of trauma as it was food for thought in that most delicious, lingering way after you clicked to the last page on your kindle.

The story

Dawn is a death doula, someone who helps people transition through death. It is a thing apparently, though as one can imagine it doesn’t pay grandly. She is supported by her science professor husband whom she met at a hospice by a twist of fate, when both her mother and his grandmother were on their deathbeds.

Dawn had been a budding Egyptologist before she met Brian and had a daughter, Meret, with him. She had also been in love with someone else, someone she sees flashing before her eyes when she thinks she is about to die in a plane crash.

An urge to return to a turning point in her life overwhelms her as questions nag and haunt her. What if I had made different choices? What person would I have been? Had I made a mistake?

Themes, characters and drawbacks

Questions like these will prompt readers into a one-click ebook purchase. Especially since we’re spending more time online these days.

This kicks off the story as we follow her in two different timelines or parallel universes. As a child I dreamed of being an archaeologist, imagining myself at the tombs of Egypt or somewhere else equally mesmerising and steeped in history. Consider this a fair warning: the novel doesn’t hold back on academic information and there were moments I skipped ahead the textbook details to get to the story-line. It just felt like too much information to dig through.

Besides Egyptology the story is rooted in themes of Quantum Physics, parallel universes, and the afterlife, playing scientific concepts against art and spirituality like an ideological ping pong match. Perhaps in some parallel universe another me is happily spending days under the Egyptian sun uncovering hidden artefacts.

Beneath all of these, is a unifying theme of love. Is it a choice or a feeling?

Plot and prose

Picoult spins prose so beautiful I regret not picking up her books earlier. Her words are raw and cut to nerve and bone. Like philosophical non-poetry, you repeat certain phrases now and then to feel it and let its wisdom and beauty sink into you.

I quote Brian’s character, “…Say you’re a passenger on a plane whose engines fail and you’re about to crash and die, should you take solace in the fact that there are other versions of you out there somewhere, that will live on? Or the inverse: should you feel worse knowing that there’s a version of you whose life is a disaster – a you that flunked out of school or became a criminal or got bitterly dumped and divorced…”

Why have I not ever considered that in another universe I didn’t turn out to be a homeless, rum-addicted pirate holed up in a cave on some God-knows-where deserted island? What makes us choose to mourn the lost opportunities and not rejoice in the disasters we possibly avoided?

When she writes about the mysteries of life that we never seem to have the answers to, she evokes a sense of wonder at how big, bright and brilliant the universe really is.

Dawn can easily be seen as a saint because of her dedication to her clients, though she’ll be first to admit that she isn’t. She does things that I don’t like, but on the whole she is just doing her best with the curve balls pitched her way, in a world without answers.

The plot leans by the tiniest degree towards literary style. It’s not fast-cars-space-monkeys-alien-murders action. It isn’t quite women’s fiction either. The entire story gave me the impression of abstract art, a painting of human life and love. Just like the story one of Dawn’s clients, Win related to her of performing artists Ulay and Abramovic whose works are entrenched in the idea of life reflecting art and art reflecting life, Picoult cunningly does the same.

Why you should read it

The Book of Two Ways will stir deep questions you knew you always had but were too afraid to acknowledge. And like all good art, it invites you in as a participant to find your own answers to those mysteries of Life.

Transform

 

 

Dust off those dreams and ideals spiked long ago

When your caged heart was free and lived with gusto.

With the Pen in your grasp

Switch genres, change the title and unclasp

the yoke around your neck.

Write one word, then never look back.

*****

 

In my google search, it turns out a quadrille is also a dance.

I was not familiar with the use of the verb ‘spike’ as in rejecting something. Usually used in publishing where a manuscript is considered and then rejected and put on the spike. So I thought I’d use it in my attempt at a quadrille.

This was nothing short of a mental crossfit workout… Hope you enjoy it.

Written for dVerse.

 

 

 

 

 

The curious case of the cinnamon sticks

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

 

Nancy loved pottering about with Mum. Today they were planting flowers. Or they would once Mum found her garden tools.

“It’s as if they crawl off on their own.” she muttered to herself digging through piles of junk in their garden shed.

“Maybe the gnomes came to borrow them.” mused Nancy.

Mum mumbled something about gnomes and arses.

Cinnamon sticks poked out off one shelf, catching Nancy’s eye.

“See! The gnomes replace what they borrow with cinnamon sticks.”

“Flip! so this is where I stuffed these bloody cinnamon sticks. Maybe I should check the spice cupboard for my garden tools.”

100 words

My very first instinct was to write some grisly murder / thriller. Images of leaves, dried twigs and wintry scenes has this effect on me. I pushed myself to find something different, stretch my creative muscles a bit. Get the rusty cogwheels turning. There’s a bundle of twigs on the makeshift shelving that look like cinnamon sticks. (Left on image). And I went with that!

Hope you enjoy the break from my dark side. Anyone who is a busy parent juggling work (housework or career or both), fitness habits, hobbies, child-rearing will know that feeling of confusion upon discovering misplaced items. And I doubt that Mum will find her tools in the spice cupboard. That would be too easy.

Write a story in 100 words or less, and join Friday Fictioneers. Hosted by our friend Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Click the icon to read more flash fiction in different genres.

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I put my heart into a bottle

I put my heart into a bottle

stuffed it away. Out of me. Out of sight.

I’d grown weary of it’s whispers

nagging me through my busy hours.

It was getting harder to focus on all I needed to,

on who I needed to be

with it’s tales of dreams and hopes long forgotten,

long abandoned at the fork in the road

way back when such things were still possible.

No, it can’t be. Can’t ever be. Wont be. Not for me.

Silly stories, silly heart

Time to grow up.

 

At the edge of the cliff I threw the bottle into the ocean

Watched as the tides carried it away

over the horizon.

That night as I slept, the whispers came louder still

Woke up in a cold sweat feeling the hole in my chest

Empty and void.

Yet tales of better tomorrows, hopes renewed

swirled all around me.

See I had not realised that I could abandon my heart

But my heart would never abandon me.

 

Not that kind of woman

 

 

Empty bed in the morning

Loneliness sleeps beside me in the space you left behind

Coffee and breakfast for one

Conversation echoes from memories playing like a movie in my mind

 

Sunlight streams through the window

Touching my skin but it leaves me cold and restless

because I keep wondering

How did I get here? Where did it all go wrong?

Throw my coffee down the drain

along

with all thoughts of you

 

I want to give up, call it a day

On this disappointment we call life

Is there someone that can help me?

Help me to get back up

But I’m not that kind of woman

Giving up is not something I’m good at

Maybe it’s enough to keep me going

Going in the dark

 

The nights are way too long

There ain’t enough movies to distract myself from calling you

Fall asleep to the sounds of Hollywood

I slept in your arms hearing you breathe, listening to every heartbeat

 

I want to run back to where I used to belong

Comfortable familiarity like a 90s sitcom

Let it be, I must move on,

better things ahead,

that’s where I belong

 

I wont give up, wont call it a day

On this disappointment we call life

Is there someone that can help me?

Help me to get back up

See I’m not that kind of woman

Giving up is not something I’m good at

Maybe it’s enough to keep me going

Going in the dark

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Thoughts of a dying dream

I was born with you, the day of your birth,

in your awakening

Out of those moments of joy bursting with light.

I stood by you, through years of your longing,

in your flagellation

Through those moments of pain echoing with the truth.

 

We have always been one, though you split us in two

Denied me, seeking fulfilment from others besides me.

Embarrassed, you walked away

I saw you look back eyes dark with regret.

You had no sense to know you could never forget.

 

Once in your mid-life, I sent you flowers, a fragrant bouquet

Hoping to remind you of what we had, and all the missed hours.

You read the note, threw it in the bin

Hid in the bedroom and found you could not hide from what was within.

That night, in the yellow of the porch light, you looked up at the stars

wondering, always wondering.

sweet_dreams_by_zuly86-d6jvwxv

And here we are, together still at the end of your life.

Yes I’m still here, beside you, within you

And I bloom in your chest, with a lot of regret.

You tell me you’re sorry, you don’t know what happened

I say nothing, just let you speak, hear your voice cracking.

 

The pain in your voice is much for me to bear.

I know I tried to tell you over the years

that for you to truly live, both of us need to have life.

 

But I will die with you, the world never knowing who I am

More tragic than this, is the self you hid from the world.

All I could do was show myself to you

Hoping you would find your courage.

Something you could never do.

 

Oh the life we could have lived!

The possibilities we could have explored!

 

It is harder for me still, to question my own existence

The dream that never could and never will,

be more than a thought in your head

A fledgling hope that never took flight.

Why was I here? It makes no sense.

 

Then I look in your eyes,

moments before the light in them goes out,

and I see the same questions stirring about.

 

****

Inspired by an article I read on the regrets of the dying. Unfulfilled dreams were one of the biggest regrets.

There is something about unfulfilled dreams, hopes and desires that cause us so much pain. Most of it seems to go against logic and reason and it takes courage to follow them.

Undeniably, dreams are a part of who we are. To fulfil them is to fulfil ourselves. To give them life, is to give us a life that feels authentic, and has a buzz to it that makes us feel very much alive.

Need a better title. It is a WIP. Suggestions welcome!

Here’s to your dreams 🙂

 

 

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