Layers beneath Layers

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Jodi Picoult, who is usually well known for her intense family dramas and realistic portrayal of characters, surprises her readers with her novel, The Second Glance. This novel of Jodi Picoult is an extra ordinary “genre-hybrid”. It happens to be a conglomeration of a love story , a historical novel embodied into a paranormal tale which converged to offer the readers a book that emerges way above the mediocre.

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The opening lines of the book are “ Ross Wakeman succeeded the first time he killed himself, but not the second or the third”. This line itself sends a chill through your spine and from then on it is a roller coaster ride. The tale which is intriguing , spooky, creepy, and enchanting, all at the same time. We see that irrespective of how hard he tries, Ross is incapable of accomplishing what he wants to do the most with his life, end it. We see him as a person mourning the death of his fiancée, Aimee, who had died eight years ago, which has left him in a state of stasis. This inability to move from where she had left him inspires him to become a ghost hunter, a “job” through which he hopes to reconnect with his lost love. But his career is short lived and he returns to Comtosook, Vermont, to live with his sister and her son.

Trouble begins as soon as the news reaches the Abenaki Indians who believed the property was a sacred burial ground. And they strongly believe what they say, “You dig up [our ancestors]resting place, it stands to reason that whatever you build on here isn’t going to be at peace.” In order to prove that the ground is not sacred the owner, Rod van Vleet, hires Ross to find any ghosts lurking there and evict them. He takes his nephew with him to work. During their vigil, Wakeman encounters a movement in the woods. Upon inspecting he comes across a gentle , young, frightened , sad woman, by the name of Lia. With whom he instantly falls in love. They start meeting secretly since she happens to be very scared of her husband. The novel enters the “twilight zone” at his point. Lias appearance is coupled by the re opening of a murder case that dates back to 1932, along with an array of inexplicable events which take place in the town.

In a powerful parallel storyline we learn about the terrifying episode in Vermont’s history, which Picoult explains in her authors note and also through her interviews. She mentioned that the” Vermont Eugenics Project of the 1920’s-1930’s, was a chapter of history that had only recently been rediscovered and till date causes great pain and shame to the Vermonters of different cultural backgrounds.” She further explains that although mostly all of her characters were fictional, but the off stage father of the program, Henry .E. Perkins, was a real person, “ He was a professor of zoology at the University of Vermont who originated the Eugenics Survey, in conjunction with his course on heredity.” She clarified in one of her interviews that during those times a bunch of progressive thinkers decided to preserve their states rural charm by eliminating people who weren’t white. The began by organizing a survey that mapped out extended ‘degenerate’ families they felt were a drain on the economy.” Eventually a law was passed that supported voluntary (which meant by the approval of two doctors) sterilization of these individuals.” Millions of Abenaki Indians and others of their like were sterilized before their funds got exhausted. “Thanks to the Nazis who credited American eugenics program with laying the groundwork for their own plans for racial hygiene.”

In the intermediate time , hundreds of miles away , ironically enough, “at Genera Institute in Maryland , Dr. Meredith Oliver” is shown to be specializing in separating genes that carry inherited diseases from healthy genes, in order for couples to end the genetic defects in their family. Her eight year old asthmatic daughter Lucy , sees ghosts and hears their whispers. In spite of loving her to bits, Meredith happens to be a busy woman who has little patience for what she thinks are nothing more than means of seeking attention. The child is left under the vigilance of her great grandmother Ruby, who has secrets of her own.

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All the characters and the twists in the plot, while seeming to be “out of the world” , are surprisingly credible enough to make the complexities of this novel work. While doing her research she encountered a lot of weird and curious people. Ranging from historians who worried about digging up this particular chapter of history to Abenaki who wanted to know why , as a white , Picoult thought that she had the right to tell this story. Although she wasn’t sure that she was doing the right thing, she says “ I have always believed that the job of a writer is to make people question their beliefs …and while I am not judging either eugenistics or Abenaki in this book, I think people deserve to now what happened…even if its coated in a fictional tale, I did not tell this story for the shock value. I told it because I had to.”