Sunday, September 26, 2010
Songs of the Humpback Whale
I'm still on my quest to read all of Jodi Picoult's novels. So, a couple of months ago when I was in my days of not blogging, I finished Songs of the Humpback Whale, Picoult's first novel. I wasn't as hooked into this one as a I have been to others, but it was still pretty interesting. I kept tuning in because I wanted to see what would happen, but I was not impressed with the ending (which I'm sure she hears a lot).
Songs of the Humpback Whale involves a woman named Jane who is unhappy with her marriage to her husband Oliver. Oliver is a renound scientist who specializes in whale studies, but he is obsessed with his work and travels a lot. He misses out on his life with his wife and teenage daughter, Rebecca. One day, after a fight escalates in their San Diego home, Rebecca slaps Oliver. She then flees with her daughter Rebecca with no place to go.
In the car, Rebecca (the seemingly stronger of the two) convinces her mom to run if she isn't happy. Why stay in a mediocre situation? They travel across the country, stopping here and there, as Oliver tries to follow them to track them down. Jane calls her brother Jolie who lives in Massachusetts and works on an apple orchard, and they decide that they will stay with him there until they figure out what to do. One of the stops that Jane and Rebecca take is to the site where Rebecca experienced a plane crash. This incident is referenced often. During this crash, Jane was also thinking of leaving Oliver, but the crash brought them together. However, Jane still wants to leave him years later.
Most of the novel is told from the orchard. Love blooms (not to use a ridiculous pun, but I'm already guilty). Jolie's boss Sam and Jane do not hit it off right away. They have that middle-school relationship where they are always bickering, but you can tell that they're flirting. They seem to pre-judge each other--Sam as the redneck idiot farm boy and Jane as the uptight California high class girl. As they spend more time together, these images slowly fade, and they fall in love.
On the other hand, Rebecca falls in love with an older boy on the farm named Hadley. Hadley respects Rebecca's innocence and does not push her into love. It just naturally unfolds, but they try to hide it for a little while. The odd thing about all of this is that Hadley, Sam, and Jolie are all roughly the same age. So when Hadley and Rebecca's interest comes out, fights ensue because Jane thinks Rebecca is too young to know what love is and Hadley is taking advantage of her daughter. Then Rebecca argues about her infidelity from her father, and they aren't on the best of terms.
Meanwhile, Oliver is in his quest of finding his family as he travels across the country. While in New England, as he tracks down Jolie's location, he saves a humpback whale which lands him a spot on the local news channel. He confesses his love to his wife on television, which they watch in the house, and this stirs up emotions among Jane and Sam. The next day, Oliver shows up at the house in the middle of the night. He finds Jane and Sam in bed and goes crazy, demanding that they leave for San Diego immediately. Jane tries to resist. When they try to locate Rebecca, they notice that she and Hadley are missing.
Sam and Oliver leave in Sam's pickup to find her, as they believe that they have run away to Hadley's mother's house. This upcoming scene is foreshadowed in earlier chapters. Hadley and Rebecca are found camping near a cliffside, and a fight escalates as Oliver is sort of insane at the idea of his daughter sleeping with this older man. He demands that they leave him immediately and end this now. As the fight escalates, Hadley accidentally slips and falls over the cliffside to his death. Rebecca is beside herself with grief and has caught pnemonia, so she must return back to the farm.
Because of these terrible circumstances, Jane decides to return to San Diego with her family to ail her wounded daughter. As the car pulls away, she looks at Sam and discusses that she feels that she will see him again. The novel ends on their travel back home.
I was so pissed off that Jane went back to Oliver. She wasn't happy with him, and she found new love, a person who would treat her well, and she ran back to her unhappy marriage. She loved life on that New England orchard, what a different new chapter to her life! However, I can see why it DID end this way because it seems what women might typically do, which gives it that realistic twist. However, I wanted Picoult to give Jane's character more, to make her dynamic and special. But, she is just like her name, a plain Jane. Nothing memorable.
I guess we're left to believe that someday, their love will reconnect. But I just feel bad for Sam. Now he knows what a wonderful love could have been, and it drove away. Now he goes back to his old life with tons of time to think about what he's missing. And, he has her brother around to help him think of it. Lame, lame, lame!
But, I did like how Picoult challenged couples that are far different in age. She showed both sides of the argument, as she normally does, and they both made sense. She showed the intricacies of a broken marriage. She showed the difficulties of understanding people from different backgrounds. When you break it down into these simplicities, the book covers some good topics for discussion. I just wasn't as on-the-edge-of-my-seat as I normally am with her stories.
As her first novel, I can see how it is her first as her other ones get stronger and stronger. I like how she continues to use the dual point of view system to see everyone's perspective. This novel jumped in time a little bit which made it a little more interesting. A lot of information was provided about whales which was kind of interesting extra information to get tied into. She also painted the person who connects more with animals than humans, and we do see that a lot in daily life.
The parallels and deeper connections with the whales can further be made within the actual story. Oliver spent his life listening to love songs of whales, and he had a hard time keeping his own love in tact. In the end, he sings his own love song to Jane (metaphorically) on the air for all to hear (similar to a whale broadcasting his love). It's funny that Oliver seems to be this expert, yet he's really not one at all in his own life.
This time of year would be a good one to read this novel, as it does connect with apple orchards, New England, and fall. If you enjoy Picoult's novels, then this one would be a good one to pick up as well. It's always good and interesting to check out that first, breakthrough novel and see progress or where it all began. At least I find that interesting.
So what do you think of Songs of the Humpback Whale?