A Spark of Light: A Novel by Jodi Picoult


“What about the mother’s right?”

The pro-life, pro-choice debate is older than me, and has been widely tackled it seems, by every living person who has an opinion, most especially politicians. It’s a topic every woman has confronted, or will, at some point in their lives. If you can’t handle the conversation, this book is not for you. Moving along…. A gunman, George Goodard, has taken hostages at a woman’s clinic where abortions are performed. He is hellbent on exacting revenge for what was taken from his daughter, despite the fact she herself doesn’t quite realize the scope of what she’s done yet. That’s his feeling anyway, and this is about his feelings! Behind the doors of the clinic are characters present for a myriad of reasons. George is too deep in it already, too late to turn back now, he must make an example! Do you blame the medical staff, punish the women who chose to terminate, what about the others (young and old) there for birth control or routine reasons? Do your beliefs have a right to bleed into the decisions of others? What if a mother’s life is at risk, is it okay then to terminate? What if it’s a young girl, say your daughter, a victim of rape? Should she be forced to carry said child? Take it further, what if it’s a case of incest? We don’t like to ponder these things, but imagine you are that 12 year old girl, and you don’t have the luxury of hypotheticals, are you moved to accept an abortion is justifiable now?  There is a flip side too, after all we’ve each been born, no one aborted us, and because we weren’t terminated we can chew on this loaded topic. Adamant that we have a voice, we can shout our points of view while defending the right to silence future voices. Each side can be debated endlessly, though I think about the dangers of laws putting restrictions our bodies. Education is key, there are medical reasons for abortion, which generally seems to be more accepted or ‘justifiable’. Desperate women (mind you this includes very young girls) will go to any lengths to end pregnancy and if there isn’t a doctor willing to safely care for them, we know what can happen. Mention this and you’ll often hear, ‘well then they deserve it, just proof isn’t it, that they are reaping what the sow’. Nothing I am saying here is new nor hasn’t been said before and heatedly, I mention it because of the character in this novel, Doctor Louie. Dr. Louie, though a practicing Catholic,  went into this controversial work because sending women elsewhere for help with such issues, he learned early on that ‘14 percent of doctors performed abortions themselves’  leading to women searching for other means, often unsafe abortions. As a doctor that, in and of itself, is a moral conundrum. Where do you place your religious beliefs when you know not acting can cost someone their lives? Must we lose both mother and child to incompetence, refuse help from a moral high ground that goes against his oath as a doctor?

Does he deserve a bullet from George’s gun? Does anyone? Is there not hypocrisy in being willing to kill when you are defending your position that others don’t kill unborn children? It’s a loop, we were all born, we were all once unborn. What about the pregnant women that have not yet had abortions, or may not be there for one? What if there are health risks to the mother, does she get a reprieve? Or must both she and the unborn child die to earn respect? It’s easy to think in black and white when you don’t have to know the full story, when you don’t humanize those you disagree with and that seems to be the theme. Jodi Picoult certainly shares the legal dilemmas here, and obviously feels passionately about the right for a woman to have choices. There isn’t an answer that fits each person perfectly. Take poverty, what if you can’t afford a child should you still have the baby? This is often met with the old ‘there’s always adoption’, which is true but that isn’t an easy decision either. You will often hear the retort ‘well, if you can’t afford it, why are you getting pregnant?” People always have the answer for the way others should live. Tackle this subject in any room and there will be heated debates in no time.

Picoult uses Hugh (the hostage negotiator) and his daughter Wren as well as his sister Bex (hostages)  to make the story deeply personal. A stellar single father, the three of them separately think about their bond and how lucky they are. Wren never regretting that it’s her father who stepped up to parent, while her mother makes ‘appearances’ and Hugh, whose daughter is his ‘universe ‘ unable to contemplate life without her, nor what lies in the delicate balance. He cannot fail. Is she there for an abortion? If so, can he relate to George’s fury?  It doesn’t matter, the stakes are far higher than he could ever have imagined. Bex is terrified, feels it is punishment for ‘going behind Hugh’s back’ to help Wren, it cannot end like this, even if by some twist she feels she deserves it. Hugh would never recover if he lost his daughter, and what of Wren and all the first moments she’ll never have?

Janine believes in the ‘sanctity of life’, does that maybe give her leeway, make George see her as on his ‘side.’ Olive is a retired professor, hoping just to survive this ordeal while chewing on ideas, hoping they can come together with a plan and tries to keep her wits. Izzy is a nurse, who knows what is means to grow up with nothing, who can ‘smell freedom’ but choses to do what is right for the others. A tough upbringing has made her resourceful, hopefully it’s enough to survive this, to help the others. Wouldn’t it just figure if she never gets the chance to be all in with her beloved Parker, to stop feeling inferior to his upbringing, wouldn’t it just figure if it all ended here, like this?

The characters weren’t that difficult to keep separate, each has their stories, emotional states coming into the clinic. All react differently because of who they are. Some are pro-life, some pro-choice. One exchange between Dr. Louie and Izzy says a lot about this issue. She says Louie may be the biggest feminist she has ever met, he claims to love all women, Izzy questioning him with her eyes on Janine sprawled on the floor he tells her ” And you should too”  because ” like it or not you’re in this fight together.” It’s a big response, in this fight for their lives as hostages, as much as a fight as women, for ownership of our bodies,  how the laws can change our freedom to decide for ourselves what’s right. But first, we have to find out if they will survive George.

Imagine book club night after reading this novel. It’s good, I have other books by Picoult I prefer but A Spark of Life is going to be widely read and discussed. It will be a different experience for every reader, and while it may be a woman’s issue, there is no reason why men shouldn’t take part.

Publication date: October 2, 2018  Out Tomorrow

Random House




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