Delia Hopkins lives a good life. She’s got a young daughter, a fiancé she’s loved since grade school and a loving father who has always been her biggest supporter. That’s why it’s such a shock when police come to her door and arrest her father, Andrew, for kidnapping her from her mother when she was a toddler. Delia, who has thought her mother died in a car accident her entire life, feels shocked and betrayed, but still makes the trip to Arizona, where her father kidnapped her from, to support him. Jodi Picoult, the author of best sellers My Sister’s Keeper and The Pact, explores memory and the past in her new book, Vanishing Acts.
Each chapter of Vanishing Acts is told from a different character’s point of view. Delia’s entries are bittersweet, confused and peppered with life lessons and platitudes that eventually become annoying. Andrew’s chapters mostly concern his time in jail as he awaits trial. It’s obvious Picoult did her research on jails, as these chapters are rich with details (many of them quite disturbing), though they sometimes don’t ring true as it’s a little hard to swallow that a sixty-year-old senior center worker would be as tough as he is portrayed behind bars. Delia’s fiancé, Eric, struggles not only with alcoholism but with trying to defend Andrew, as Delia has asked him to be her father’s lawyer. Delia and Eric’s best friend from grade school, Fitz, also gets a few chapters, and he discusses his assignment to cover the trial for the newspaper he works for as well as his lifelong love for Delia.
Switching between past and present, Vanishing Acts explores the relationships we build, the things we remember and the things we’re better off forgetting. It also takes a look at a few tough issues such as alcoholic parents, recovered memory and whether all crimes really should be punished. Nearly all the characters are sympathetic but with flaws, which makes it difficult for the reader to pick out a “hero” and a “villain”. This, however, is what Picoult wants. She doesn’t want to provide easy answers; she wants to ask the tough questions and let the reader try to answer them for themselves. With her well-drawn characters and original plot, Picoult has created a novel that not only flows extremely well, but that will also keep the reader thinking about it long after the final chapter.