Book Reviews

Book Review: Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult – Page-Turner with Faults

At a time when most people look for “mindless summer reading” which usually means fluff that can be put down and picked up easily, Jodi Picoult is a breath of fresh air.  Her books usually surround a topic that has made headlines in the past, but Picoult puts a bit of a different spin on it that makes the reader stop and think a bit.

In Vanishing Acts, the reader is introduced to Delia Hopkins.  Delia lives in a small town in New Hampshire where she works with a search and rescue bloodhound.  She has a young daughter with Eric, who is a long-time beau that she plans to marry.  There is a third member of a trio of friends who grew up together, Fitz.  Fitz not-so-secretly longs for Delia but has been content to be on the fringes and work as a reporter.  It is Fitz who Delia turns to about memories she has that don’t make sense in light of the life she grew up with in New Hampshire. Some of the memories are being triggered by the wedding preparations, as Delia’s father reluctantly gives her a few keys to the past that he has been trying to keep quiet.

Once Fitz digs a little deeper, he sets events in motion that none of them can control.  It seems Delia is not really Delia Hopkins, nor is her father really Andrew.  A long time ago they had different lives in Arizona.  In the midst of a bitter divorce, Delia’s father abducted her and built a new life with a different identity.  It wouldn’t seem to matter now that Delia is an adult, but as soon as the State of Arizona learns of their whereabouts, they have Andrew arrested for parental abduction.

Everyone gets to travel to Arizona.  Eric is a defense attorney who happens to have a college frat buddy in Arizona who will let him use his practice to run Andrew’s defense.  Fitz is covering the story for the newspaper he works for.  And Delia is trying to figure out who she really is.

The story is pretty convoluted, especially when I tried to figure out a summary.  It really seems to plod along like a soap opera more than anything else.  Revelations come and go which may or may not be the truth.  The side stories of alcoholism, child molestation, choosing suicide when faced with a mortal illness, and life in prison keep the book moving along but also serve as a distraction.  I don’t doubt Picoult’s accounts of prison life and they are well-written and described.  However, it felt like there was just too much else going on that wasn’t central to the story.

The characters have a great depth to them, part of which is due to Picoult’s writing style.  She tends to jump around in each chapter from one character’s point of view to the next.  While this really allows the reader to get inside the character’s heads and get the greatest perspective on events that are taking place, it can also be confusing from time to time.  Vanishing Acts is not a book that’s easy to put down and pick up at a whim, reading a few pages at a time while sitting poolside.

The central story is still excellent, which is what really keeps Vanishing Acts from faltering.  As an adoptee, I could empathize with the feelings of not knowing who you are from not knowing your roots.  Delia is really searching for her identity in Vanishing Acts.  Is she Delia Hopkins, daughter of Andrew?  Is she about to be the wife of a small-town lawyer and mother to his children?  Is she a survivor of some terrible event, long forgotten in her past?  Vanishing Acts is really Delia’s story, and it’s about discovering herself, not just her identity.

I liked how Picoult kept a lot of the facts surrounding Andrew’s decision to run off with Delia a secret until near the end.  What we learn about the past and his relationship with his wife comes out in bits and pieces.  It works quite nicely, although I would think Arizona would be less likely to pursue someone for parental kidnapping so many years after the fact, particularly when his ex-wife really didn’t seem to care anymore one way or the other.

The ending has a bit of a twist, although by that point in the story with all of the different revelations coming about, I really wasn’t surprised by any of it.  I wasn’t crazy about the ending as what develops in the love triangle seems to end with just the sentiment that no matter what happens we’ll all still love each other and be friends – not too realistic.  Eric’s story of how he copes with alcoholism did ring true, however.  Picoult generally researches her topics quite well and is excellent at putting the reader right in the middle of situations that feel realistic.  The drawback to Vanishing Acts is just that there are so many of these different situations going on throughout the book.

While I enjoyed Vanishing Acts quite a bit, it wasn’t the best I’ve read from Picoult.  Still, as summer reading goes, I’d rather spend the time with this book than many other books sitting on the shelves of bookstores this time of year.  It might stop and make you think a bit about some preconceived notions you’ve had about identity as well as crime and punishment.

1 reply »

  1. Weird. My husband’s ex wife moved his kids to Arizona after their divorce. Then, she moved them to New Hampshire, without saying a word to my husband. I don’t usually read many novels, but this one might interest me.