As I experienced this novel as an audiobook, I would like to address those issues first before moving on to the content of this thought-provoking novel.
It is amazing to me that a “professional” outfit like Random House Audio can actually make a book MORE DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND than the author intended. In this novel, Jodi Picoult already places great demands on the reader (I’ll come back to that in a moment.) So it does NOT help to have NO SPACE AT ALL between the various narrative voices.
This could be easily fixed by inserting a one- or two-second pause so that it is obvious to the listener which voice has ended and which one has begun. I URGE Random House Audio to go through and FIX THIS PROBLEM. They really should NOT be charging the public MONEY for such SHODDY work! (I would like to point out that when I INSISTED on SUCH SPACING in the audio version of my first novel Thwarted Queen, it won an IPPY GOLD MEDAL for AUDIOBOOK. So I DO KNOW what I’m talking about!)
Having had my rant, I now want to commend narrator Bahni Turpin for her marvelous evocation of the various characters, getting their accents pitch-perfect. It was a real responsibility for just one person, and what she did was a real tour de force!
Now to the content of the novel.
At the very beginning of her career, in her debut novel Songs of the Humpback Whale, author Jodi Picoult had one of her characters narrate the events backwards!
Back in 1992, Ms. Picoult simply didn’t have the technique to handle such a challenge. Here, she handled a similar challenge much more adroitly.
At the beginning of A Spark of Light we are thrown into a hostage situation with a murderous angry man waving a gun around. At that point, all we know is that Olive (the old lady) is dead, her blood spilling all over the floor, and that the abortion doctor (Dr. Ward) has been shot in the leg and may have to face amputation if he doesn’t receive medical attention stat.
Then there is Becks, who has been shot through the chest, which inhibits her ability to breathe, and her teenaged niece Wren, who has bravely (or perhaps foolishly) just stabbed the gunman in the hand with a scalpel.
There are two other women, Joy who has just (this very day) had an abortion, and Janine who is a spy for the anti-abortion activists (she is wearing a blond wig.)
Last, is Izzy, the red-headed nurse (engaged to someone who is too posh for her), who tirelessly works away at the wounded, confronting the gunman at every turn to get better medical care for these people in the waiting room who have become her patients. Somehow, she manages to persuade him not to shoot her dead. Of course, I loved Izzy!
Over the course of this novel, Ms. Picoult lets us into these characters’ thoughts and feelings as they reminisce about their childhoods, how they came to be pregnant, and how they wound up at an abortion center.
From this beginning in Chapter One (which starts at 5 pm), we move forward to round out the hour, ending with the gunman pointing his gun toward 15-year-old Wren.
What a cliffhanger!
Is Wren dead?
What about her father Hugh McElroy, who is coming to rescue her?
What about the gunman? Is he on the loose?
However, the trouble with this cliffhanger IMHO is that the rest of the novel takes place between this event and its eventual resolution in the Epilogue, letting too much time pass for it to be compeling.
I, at least became so swept away by all the stories that Jodi Picoult has to tell about her various characters, that all of the tension generated by the cliffhanger in Chapter One seeped away. Which was a pity.
From the opener, each chapter spools back hour by hour, until we get to 8 am, before the tragic events of the day unfold.
By structuring the novel this way, Jodi Picoult gives herself two enormous challenges:
(a) She must not confuse the reader, and
(b) she must still produce an arc of tension.
Speaking for myself, I found this structure interesting to experience, but I still got lost (NOT helped by the UNPROFESSIONAL production of Random House Audio).
Although there really was no arc of tension, perhaps the point of this structure was to give the reader/listener the verisimilitude of being in an inherently unstable and unpredictable situation, making the plight of these desperate people all the more real. By spooling backward, Jodi Picoult was also able to reveal just how horrifying the situation actually was, much worse than the appalling opening chapter.
Five Stars.Tap here for YOUR copy of Jodi Picoult’s A SPARK OF LIGHT