Picoult delivers another riveting yarn about a hot-button issue ... Even though she’s rewinding the story, Picoult manages to keep the tension high as we learn about the characters’ personalities and situations. And there’s a surprising reveal in the final pages that readers will likely find provocative. Picoult explores both sides of the abortion debate in this carefully crafted, utterly gripping tale, which acknowledges that there are no easy answers.
No Picoult story is complete without characters representing both sides of a polarizing issue, something she has done for decades. Her 2011 tome Sing You Home was criticized for turning her characters on the religious right into caricatures, but she has clearly taken the comments to heart. Those in the antiabortion faction in A Spark of Light are as three-dimensional as those on the other side ... imbuing her characters — male and female, antiabortion and abortion rights advocates — with more shades of gray than a Pantone color wheel. Timely, balanced and certain to inspire debate, A Spark of Light is Picoult at her fearless best.
The author’s sincere empathy for her characters blurs how we are supposed to feel. Is the gunman’s behaviour understandable? Might we do the same in his place? Well, no, to be frank. Perhaps there’s an unbridgeable cultural gulf between the US and the rest of the world here, but a man shooting unarmed women surely forfeits any claim on our understanding from page one. Justifying his violence – even explaining it – feels dubious ... Picoult includes a couple of highly accomplished last-minute twists that deepen the emotional impact of the book. To get there, we must persevere through a lot of repetition and deflated tension ... Picoult often writes very beautifully and has a matchless talent for hitting emotional notes. Here, though, she seems oddly off-balance ... We look to fiction to make sense of the world, to enlighten and entertain and move us. Jodi Picoult usually does just that, and will again. Ultimately, however, A Spark of Light is tentative in tackling this most complex of issues.