Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Harvesting the Heart
I am still on my Jodi Picoult rampage, and I am destined to finish all of her books by the end of the year. (I'm making some decent head-way...) Anyway, my newest accomplishment is her second novel, Harvesting the Heart. This novel, I found, was a little bit different from her other novels. Instead of creating multiple characters and getting insde their heads, it focused mainly on two characters and their romantic relationship (and struggles) together.
Her other novels seem to focus around a central, controversial issue. A trial is usually involved. Multiple characters give their side of the story through their point of view. Families are split in this crucial issue.
But, Harvesting the Heart is slightly different from her normal formula. This could either draw or repel readers, but I think most readers like to find out for themselves.
The controversial issue in this novel, even though it's not the BIGGEST focus, is abortion. The protagonist, Paige, has an abortion during her senior year of high school. She has many good reasons to do so. She doesn't want to be tied down to the small town outside of Chicago that she was raised in. She's not sure that her boyfriend is really the one who is best for her, and she knows that she will marry him if she has the baby. She wants to go to college to pursue her budding artistic talent, which she wouldn't be able to if she had the baby. She wants to travel. She is not mature enough or financially stable to raise this baby. She still lives with her father too.
So, Paige has the abortion and runs. Paige has learned to literally "run" from her problems because that's what her mother did when she was younger. Her mother ran from her family and never spoke to them again.
Later on, once Paige becomes pregnant with her husband's, Nicholas's, child, she starts to remember small things about her mother which makes her want to find her now more than ever, especially since she is becoming a mother soon herself.
Paige relocates to Boston where she meets her future husband Nicholas, a prize of a husband who is going to school to be a doctor. He is from an affluent family, was on the crew team, is stunningly gorgeous, and has traveled the world. Even though he is much older, they still seem to hit it off. They are physically drawn to one another which a passion that excites them. When Nicholas takes Paige home to visit his parents, the Prescott's, they do not like her. Nicholas stops talking to them, they get married, and they live estranged.
A couple years after the marriage, Paige becomes pregnant and starts to fear that she will not be a good mother. She has still not pursued her art career (they had to put her career on hold while they paid for Nicholas to go to med school), and she feels too young to be a mother. She feels like she is destined to fail at motherhood because of her previous abortion AND because she never had a mother herself. Paige still has withheld her abortion secret from Nicholas.
Unlike other novels that express the glory of motherhood, Harvesting the Heart captures the opposite. Picoult shows the struggle that some mothers have. They don't feel like they know how to do these chores, they lose their independence and freedom, they feel worthless, etc. Paige truly makes you feel her struggle. Meanwhile, Nicholas is swept away in his job (being an amazing heart surgeon) and escapes to the hospital often so that he has little responsibility for the child. This creates arguments between the couple, and they grow farther and father apart.
One day, Paige accidentally drops the baby on his head, and she feels that she almost killed him. She feels like she is an unfit mother. When Nicholas comes home, they get in a huge argument about how Paige isn't a responsible mother, and she runs. She takes off in her car and doesn't know where she's heading.
Paige ends up running to Chicago where she visits her father and ex-boyfriend. She then figures out that she really wants to visit her mother, and tracks her down to live in North Carolina as she is a horse trainer.
Meanwhile, Nicholas is furious and cuts off Paige's credit cards. When Paige calls, Nicholas is violently mean and angry and refuses to get back together with her. He struggles with finding childcare and eventually must turn to his mother for help. His mother accepts with open arms.
Paige travels to North Carolina to visit her mother, and it's not what she expected. Her mother is nice and she stays there a while as Paige tries to figure her out. Her mother didn't want to be tied down (which is what Paige is wondering herself), but there is a major difference in them that makes Paige leave and return home: Paige cares too much about her child to leave him alone without her.
When Paige returns, Nicholas is a brooding maniac, allowing her to sleep on the porch and yelling obsene things at her. Not knowing what to do, Paige follows him around at work and eventually follows him to his parents' house to see her child. Surprisingly, Mrs. Prescott welcomes her in with open arms. She explains that she didn't like her at first because she seemed to be submissive and to have a weak spine, but this has proven her wrong. Paige moves in with them which makes Nicholas even more furious. Paige does anything she can to win him back. Her biggest move is getting a job at the hospital where she shadows patients and draws pictures of them which become an instant hit. They are displayed all around the hospital which surrounds Nicholas with his wife.
Nicholas struggles the most with Paige's abortion secret, which she reveals to him when she returns. Nicholas feels like he can't trust his wife. She is a stranger who abandons her family. Paige tries her hardest to show him that he is wrong, but that is an extremely difficult thing to prove.
The ending seemed very open as if we were to decide what would happen to the couple. I assume that they will be together because we have watched their struggle and slow acceptance of one another, but it's not crystal clear. Maybe all relationships aren't crystal clear, so this actually makes their situation more realistic. Who knows?
I thought the title was almost too cute. With Nicholas being a heart surgeon and relationship problems, it was accurate on many levels. Hearing about the politics of the hospital and the hierarchy was interesting (as they hosted dinner parties and Paige felt worthless). I liked hearing descriptions of open-heart surgeries and how it feels to literally hold a life in your hands. I'm so removed from the medical world that I find it interesting to read about because it's so foreign to me. (Knock on wood).
The novel alternates between the two in the couple. I really liked seeing both perspectives of the relationship because I felt like I could see each side of the problem. I feel like I sided more with Paige because, to me, Nicholas seemed irrational at times. Yes, that's a hard thing to deal with, but he just seemed to be too pouty about it. At least hear her out. I started to get really frustrated with his character towards the end. I just wanted to yell, "GET OVER IT!" at him, but I really couldn't. I could just keep reading.
Overall, I enjoyed it. I learned some things about horseback riding and open-heart surgeries. I learned about the struggles of being a young mother (or a mother in general) and about relationships in general. There is a lot to be learned here. It's a clear dissection of a relationship, and discussing it with friends would truly be an interesting conversation.
So what do you think of Harvesting the Heart?