Jodi Picoult


Salem Falls


(Impression review: been a month or two since reading it)


This felt like a pretty cynical exercise in generating sales – but one that shows genuine ability. I mean, anyone could say: “Look, I want to do a Mills and Boon thing teen girls, but add in some of the supernatural/witchy stuff that seems so popular now.” But they wouldn’t necessarily pull it off. Picoult has the writing chops to pull this midday-movie stuff off, and much as I don’t gravitate towards these sorts of trappings (like I do to other genre’s trappings – like gumshoes or aliens), she created workable characters and settings. Garish, melodramatic, but workable (oh, except for the jail narrative: that was just plain offensive in its absurd depiction of dealing with the power dynamics of sexual assault).


But, sure, the book was never written for me. It’s got big elements of that classic hook for teens (cf. a rant buried in this Voigt review identifying the same thing in the Belgariad) – where you can smugly feel you have the maturity to see past childish perceptions to the darker realities (while, unfortunately, the ‘realities’ are highly clichéd and stylised). The teen girls that are what I imagine as the intended audience can also lap up the way that … teen girls … are so central to everyone’s concerns. They also have power – even Wicca power. And we’ve got the daydream romance as well, where post-rape sex is so easily reclaimed with just a bit of consideration and self-control.


I wonder about whether Picoult got any flak about the way that this guy is *twice* accused of rape – in two utterly different towns and circumstances and by different teenage girls – and both times he was innocent. Well, there’s a lesson there, isn’t there – you just can’t trust these girls who cry ‘rape’ (hey, not MY lesson, Picoult’s). Coincidentally I’d recently reread To Kill a Mockingbird (interestingly also by a female author), and thought that the idea of an educated, privileged lawyer *heroically* undermining the testimony of an illiterate, dirt-poor girl claiming rape wouldn’t fly in today’s climate. Yet here is this hugely popular woman doing something along these lines in 2001, twice!


There were some other sub-plots, but I really lost interest about half-way along, and sort of skimmed to the end. Part of me would recommend the book because as an English teacher often I’m just trying to get kids to read something, anything, and this would probably get some of them engaged. Part of me thinks the content’s playing to less attractive presuppositions and propensities: why can’t they read something less salacious and more wholesome or layered? Probably because it’s less salacious, more wholesome and layered.


Whatever, I’d heard Picoult’s name thrown around a bit, but on the strength of this novel I won’t be back, much as I can see that she has some craft.


October 2015