Jodi Picoult has evolved into the "issues" writer for popular fiction, and she tackles another thorny one in "Sing You Home," her latest tale of someone's personal tragedy.
This time, Picoult introduces us to Zoe and Max, a couple who have spent many years and thousands of dollars in their battle with infertility. When their latest round of in vitro fertilization ends with their son's premature stillbirth, the marriage ends. Max, who has struggled with alcoholism for years, walks out and tells Zoe he wants a divorce.
Neither party has much money, so their divorce is a simple one, with no lawyers on either side. Of course, that proves to be the nut of Picoult's story.
Max heads to his brother's house to dry out and try to pick up the pieces of his life. His brother, Reid, and his wife are struggling to have children of their own. But they are also members of the uber-conservative Eternal Glory Church. Max resists entreaties to join until he has a drunken driving accident and mistakenly thinks he's hit his ex-wife. "It couldn't have been more transparent for me if the answers had been tattooed on my face ... apparition had been Jesus's way of coming into my life."
While Max finds his way, Zoe begins to tread a very different path. She becomes more friendly with Vanessa, a school guidance counselor who had recommended a patient to Zoe, a music therapist. They begin spending more and more time together, and Vanessa helps Zoe through a medical crisis. Vanessa is a lesbian, and Zoe realizes she has fallen in love with her.
Zoe's lifelong dream to be a mother has ended with her diagnosis, despite the embryos she froze with Max during their treatments. But Vanessa wants to have a child with her new partner, thus beginning the legal fight between newly saved Max and his ex-wife, the newly discovered lesbian and her partner. The couple's divorce never addressed what would become of the embryos.
It's a serious legal topic that Picoult treats with the gravity it deserves, while still unleashing an often-wry eye on the situation, via Vanessa in this instance: "I'm not really sure when I began telling myself I'd never have kids. I'm still young, sure, but options are different when you're a lesbian. The dating pool is smaller ... A gay couple has to make a serious, expensive, invested effort to have a baby."
For good measure, Picoult brings in a showboating lawyer for Max along with his unresolved relationship with his brother's wife. But really the story is that of Zoe and Vanessa and how love can look like something no one ever expected.
The topic is sure to turn off some readers, but Picoult treats all sides of this complex morality tale with honesty and dignity (save, perhaps, Max's lawyer), which is what readers have come to expect from her.
"Sing You Home" by Jodi Picoult; Atria (466 pages, $28)