Published for the first time in hardback in 1999, this reissue of one of Jodi Picoult’s seminal books is, mostly, a pleasure with which to reconnect. Reading Picoult can be hard work. Well worth the read, enlightening and often inspiring, she deals with contemporary issues in a no-holds-barred manner. That is what makes it difficult to get your emotions and thoughts around. But, as has been often stated, when you take the time to do something that is difficult, or read something that may challenge preconceptions or long-held ideas, the end result is worth it. Thus is Keeping Faith.
Picoult is not shy about taking on provocative and inflammatory topics. In Keeping Faith, she tackles a series of contemporary and often painful issues; infidelity, divorce, custody battles and being a single parent are all dealt with through sensitive and moving writing. Then, as is her wont, Picoult veers in a very different direction, stunning the reader out of complacency (“thank goodness this Mariah White is just a character in a book...” says this reader) and into the maelstrom of faith, inspiration, and even the bizarre world of religious stigmata. Without hesitation, Picoult leads the reader into an area that triggers a great deal of debate, even among the faithful. How does the everyday person understand, appreciate, or even adapt to the weird and the uncanny?
Mariah is still reeling from her divorce and stunned by the crumbling of her heretofore-perfect life. Having seven-year-old Faith, her precious daughter, suck her into the spiritually mysterious is pretty near impossible for the embittered single mother to handle.
The clever play on words - “Faith” is both a child’s name and an issue that the beleaguered Mariah (Rye) has to deal with - is just one of the areas in which Picoult challenges the reader repeatedly. So many of the issues and concerns expressed by her characters focus on, and indeed reflect, the images of “real” people and their experiences. When the seven-year-old begins to talk to an imaginary friend that she calls “Guard,” and there are even faint intimations that this “friend” is Faith’s personal depiction of how she sees God, the reader gets sucked into the story regardless of what their personal views or faith stories are.
Picoult is not an easy writer to understand or appreciate. She can be verbose and overly detailed, and sometimes her characters suffer from lack of thorough development, but even with those drawbacks, it is easy to root for the underdog. It is also easy to build up a good head of steam about the more negative elements – in this case, the cheating husband and his slimy lawyer give you somewhere to go with your angst-ridden horror over the situations that Rye and her precious Faith (both big and little “F/f’s”) seem to suffer.
The ending seems a little less clear than some of Picoult’s other works – such as The Tenth Circle – and that element may leave you a bit disgruntled when the final page is turned. If you are looking for a casual, light-hearted read, this probably isn’t the book to have in your hand. However, if you don’t mind having your eyes opened, your senses pummeled, and your imagination fired up by the possibilities of the miraculous, then this and other Jodi Picoult titles should give you much reading pleasure.