The Pact : How well do you really know your children?

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Jodi Picoult deals with the utmost sensitive topic of each and every parent, in her fifth novel. ‘The Pact’ brings to life a familiar world and in a single moment brings to reality any parents worst nightmare. “We think we know our children, but do we really know them at all?” Published in the year 1998, the novel is a family drama delving deep into the depths of the intricacies of a teenagers mind. And simultaneously it shows Picoult’s take on how disillusioned certain parents can be about their own children. It is a heart wrenching story of love and how the most beautiful emotion on earth could culminate into something, as terrifying as death. “The novelist displays an almost uncanny ability to enter the skins of her trouble young protagonists”, said the New York Times.

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The Harte’s and the Gold’s had been family friends for the past eighteen years of their loves. It almost seemed as if their lives had no meaning before they met each other. They would share everything from Chinese food to their daily affairs. The children too, much like their parents had grown to become best of friends. Hence it was only natural when Chris and Emily started dating in high school. They seemed to be in love for forever. And believed they were meant to be soul mates since birth. Everything seemed to be picture perfect.

The novel opens with an unexpected phone call which turn the lives of these two families upside down. Never in their wildest dreams would they have been even thinking of something as appalling as the truth which confronts them from the other side of the phone call. Emily, a seventeen year old, dead by a single gunshot bullet across her head. There was a single unspent bullet, which Chris says was meant for him. At this point the book goes back in time to their childhood and beautifully portrays how the both of them would spend all their time with each other. And how they grew up to be so close to each other that it hurt them. Picoult accurately captures the various layers of emotional instability that teenagers might go through. The book gives us a detailed account of how frustrated people can be of spending all their time with each other. It is not sugar coated and they very fact that it is so hard hitting is what makes the book so charming. As its chapters unwind, shifting between an idyllic past and an unimaginable present, The Pact paints an indelible portrait of families in anguish, culminating in an astonishingly suspenseful courtroom drama as Chris finds himself on trial.

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“Picoult is a writer of high energy and conviction who has, in her fifth novel, brought to life a cast of subtly drawn characters caught up in a tragedy as timeless and resonant as those of Greeks or Shakespeare… this psychologically shrewd tale is as suspenseful as any best-selling legal thrilled … she forges honed, commanding a cathartic drama”, as per the Booklist. She said she was inspired by the eight year old, who had a tendency, whom she used to teach, before becoming a novelist. She never forgot what it was to know that someone was suicidal and to try every day to keep her alive. She said she “never forgot what it felt like to be someone else’s lifeline… even if there were other people who were towing that line of responsibilities beside her”.

Picoult had done extensive research to get the real feel of the characters she was knitting up her story with. She went to the police station and then to the jail. She wanted to see how being in jail could affect a normal child. More so because he was innocent. She also spent a great deal of time in the court, talking to defense lawyers. She found there were two kinds- the first who could explain the client’s guilt straight away by the dint of his troubled childhood and the other who didn’t really care whether or not their client was guilty. All they cared about was their job. The latter intrigued her immensely, the hard shell up against any emotional connect to the client, which ultimately became a template for Jordon McAfee’s character. One of her favorite tidbits of information changed the entire course of the book. In America they would never ask you to testify against your husband, however you could be asked to testify against you children if need be. She was shocked by this bit of legal information. “I don’t know about you …but I would be far more willing to lock away my husband than any of my children!” said Picoult in one of her interviews. The extensive research and the detailing is the reason why the characters and the novel seems to be so lifelike.

With this engrossing psychological drama, Jodi Picoult explores the dynamics of intimate relationships under stress- from the seemingly inexplicable mind of a teenager to the bonds of friendship and marriage. Very few writers have the ability of evoking everyday life coupled with the ability to create a level of dramatic tension that might keep you up whole night. The Pact is story telling at its best.