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.
Picoult begins her riveting saga at the end of the story, when George Goddard—a distraught, anti-abortion father whose teenage daughter recently had an abortion at the Center—storms inside, fires several shots and takes an unknown number of hostages ... A Spark of Light is another winner for Picoult—a provocative exploration of an issue that is in the spotlight now more ever before.
Picoult has never shied away from controversial topics in her fiction, from school shootings to the Holocaust to gay rights to racism. She flies her liberal flag proudly. But this is by far her most blatantly political novel, and while she tries to get inside the heads of her characters to explore both sides of the pro-choice/pro-life debate, it’s obvious where her sympathies lie ... It’s an uncomfortable topic no matter your personal beliefs, and A Spark of Light is an uncomfortable, disturbing read, which may be Picoult’s intent. It’s hard to say: That’s a central problem with a novel like this, which alternately keeps you riveted and repulsed. A breathless thriller about an abortion clinic shooting? The intention, depending on your politics, may be admirable. The execution made me somewhat queasy ... Polemic or page-turner? Picoult wants to have it both ways, with mixed results. But give her points for daring to take on a volatile, politically charged topic in deeply divided times and trying to humanize it.
[The story's backwards telling] has the effect of peeling back the layers of the characters and their motivations... but it also contributes to a confusion that's perhaps reflective of such a traumatic incident ... Picoult has done her research (the afterword details the hundreds of interviews she conducted), and she treats the subject with admirable evenhandedness. Yet it's obvious where her sympathies lie. Will this turn off some of her loyal readers? More likely, some minds on both sides will be changed, or at least challenged, by Picoult's thoughtful prose.
Her 25th novel, A Spark of Light, bravely addresses one of America’s most polarising issues: abortion. In illiberal Mississippi, where abortion is now banned beyond 15 weeks, Picoult imagines the armed siege of a clinic ... Picoult begins right in the middle of things, and offers a panoramic sweep and vivid characterisation. But her unfortunate decision to unfold her vital story backwards slackens the pace, then creates a further narrative problem because she needs an epilogue.
At times, Picoult defaults to her habitual sentimentality, particularly in describing the ties that bind Hugh, Wren, and Bex. This novel is unflinching, however, in forcing readers to witness the gory consequences of a mass shooting, not to mention the graphic details of abortions at various stages of gestation and the draconian burdens states like Mississippi have placed on a supposed constitutional right ... The Times Arrow– or Benjamin Button–like backward structure adds little except for those ironic tinges hindsight always provides. Novels such as this extensively researched and passionate polemic are not necessarily art, but, like Sinclair Lewis’ The Jungle, they are necessary.
Picoult’s extensive research shines throughout, but the book’s reverse chronological structure interferes with the complicated back stories ... Nevertheless, this is a powerful story that brings clarity to the history of abortion and investigates the voices on both sides of the issue.