After my son Kyle Ferriera van Leer declared his major in Egyptology at Yale in 2010, he mentioned the Book of Two Ways in passing. Without knowing a thing about it, I said, “That’s a great title for a novel.” – Jodi Picoult, Author’s Note
I have read almost all of Jodi Picoult’s work. If there’s one I missed, it was not on purpose. Some of her books I didn’t find as good as the rest, but overall I enjoyed reading them.
The Book of Two Ways is the first one I didn’t like. It’s the her first work I could have gone without reading.
Dawn is a woman who is at a crossroads in her life. She once thought her career was going to be as an Egyptologist studying out of Yale. In fact, it looked like she was going to be one of the foremost people in that field. Life dealt her a series of blows, and here she is fifteen years later, wondering what could have been. After watching her mother die in hospice, she became what is known as a death doula, helping people navigate the end of their lives. She’s now married to Brian, a quantum physicist, who studies the theories of alternate universes based on the decisions we make.
The story isn’t told in linear fashion. It skips around all over the place so it’s not apparent what it happening and when. It’s so hard to follow. Is some of it happening in an alternate universe, following her husband’s science? Or are we just watching a woman who is trying to find out if she can recapture what she walked out on many years earlier?
Our introduction to Dawn is her being involved in a plane crash. The way it is written, it sounds like after the crash the airline gave her the option of a ticket to anywhere, and she asked to go to Egypt. Once her life had flashed before her eyes, she decided she needed to go there. That’s not quite how events took place, which the reader only finds out at the very end.
It also seems like Ms. Picoult spent a lot of time learning Egyptology due to her son’s involvement in it. Most of the book read like a lesson in Egyptology. It’s nice she got so interested in her son’s career, but it really dragged the story down. If readers aren’t into it themselves, the book loses one’s interest – fast. I couldn’t keep the people straight and I couldn’t pronounce the words and I really didn’t care. I wanted the story of these people.
I thought I was going to have trouble with this book, but I thought it would be the subject matter. Many of us have “might have beens” in our life that we struggle with. I’d be happy to exist in that alternate universe where my daughter isn’t deceased and is living a happy life, among other things that might have gone differently in my life. I thought that was the part I would struggle with. It is what also interested me about the book. However, all of that seems buried by a course in Egyptology 101.
I was actually ready to quit reading it. I rarely do that. There are some books I have to put aside for a while as the subject is too dark (Eric Foner’s Reconstruction is like that). It’s very rare that I stop reading because I just don’t like the book, particularly from one of my favorite authors. What kept me reading was a desire to see how it all turned out in her story.
Normally, I like ambivalent endings. Limbo is one of my favorite films. However, the ending of The Book of Two Ways was just frustrating after wading through all of that Egyptology.
The Book of Two Ways was a disappointment from an author I normally enjoy. I cannot recommend it.