Not too many authors are doing national tours these days, so it’s notable that Jodi Picoult is in Minnesota this week. Her new book, “Handle With Care,” instantly hit the top of the New York Times fiction list this month, so the East Coast writer doesn’t really need to come out and say hi to the hundreds of people expected to attend her signing event in Roseville Wednesday.
But Picoult inhabits a rare celebrity author status; on her website, you’ll see her mugging with Elton John and posing in front of a personalized PT Cruiser (which her publicist says she won’t be bringing here). Can you imagine, say, Ellen Hart or Charles Baxter tooling down Lake Street in a car with their name splashed across the side doors? It’s a whole different world, and considering that Picoult spends several months of every year on tour, I suspect our local writers are happy enough to forgo that level of fame.
In “Handle With Care” a mother of a seriously disabled child initiates a wrongful birth lawsuit to help pay for the staggering costs associated with her daughter’s care. When I talked to Picoult about this fairly icky premise, she took a cheery position:
“I have been blown away by the responses from parents of disabled children, and those with disabilities themselves, who are so grateful to see in mainstream literature a representation of their lives and a reminder that people are so much more than just their disability,” she said. Which would be more reassuring if Picoult didn’t torture this poor family so thoroughly with doctors and lawyers and a quicksand of family trauma. “[The mother] believes that she is truly doing what’s best for Willow by instigating the lawsuit. I like to think of her as a mom with blinders on — she is so focused on her task that she can’t see the big picture.”
The picture, apparently, is that she’s a Bad, Bad Mother. The ethical crux of the story is this question: Would the family have been better off if this child hadn’t been born? Picoult leaves the answer to be answered within the very uncomfortable hearts of her readers. Which raises another question: If this book had come out last year, would people answer differently? It’s been said that Bush’s “culture of life” has come to an end in light of the recession; people no longer want to pay for unlimited million-dollar babies (note the media-lashing “octo-mom” Nadya Suleman has taken). Society changes quickly, which is one of the drawbacks of being a ripped-from-the-headlines writer. That, and all the travel.
Meet Picoult Wednesday, March 18, at noon, Borders Roseville, 866 Rosedale Center, 651-633-1344. You will need a colored wristband to secure a place in line.