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Second Glance


Second Glance

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SECOND GLANCE, Jodi Picoult's newest novel, is an extraordinary
"genre-hybrid." The confluence of its parts --- ghost story, love
story, historical novel, paranormal/supernatural tale --- converges
to offer readers a book that roars with superlative dialogue,
radiates with interesting characters (alive and dead) and floats in
the ether above the mediocre. The elements of redemption, the
qualities of love and the definition of family raise questions
about integrity, respect, prejudice, memory, medical ethics and
"things that go bump in the night."

The book opens with these words: "Ross Wakeman succeeded the first
time he killed himself, but not the second or the third." No matter
how hard he tries, Ross Wakeman fails to accomplish what he most
wants to do with his life --- end it! After the death of his
fiancée, eight years in the past, he is still deeply mourning
her, which has left him mired in a state of stasis. This inability
to move inspires him to become a ghost hunter, a "job" through
which he hopes to reconnect with his lost love. Unfortunately, his
career is short-lived and he returns to Comtosook, Vermont, where
his sister and her son live their strange life. Ross is depressed,
frustrated and nursing feelings of failure.

The town of Comtosook is in an uproar since old man Spencer Pike
sold a parcel of land to a development company that plans to build
a strip mall. Trouble begins as soon as the news reaches the
Abenaki Indians, who believe the property is a sacred burial
ground. They are committed to save the land of their ancestors and
picket the site. "You dig up [our ancestors'] resting place, it
stands to reason that whatever you build on here isn't going to be
at peace." In order to prove the ground is not sacred in any way,
Rod van Vleet, the company representative, hires Ross to find any
ghosts lurking there and evict them. Ross reluctantly agrees to get
involved and enlists the help of his nephew, Ethan, who suffers
from XP (xeroderma pigmentosum: a fatal disease that prohibits
exposure to sunlight) and is thus delighted to accompany his uncle
on a nighttime stakeout.

During their vigil, Wakeman sees a movement in the woods and, when
he follows it, he finds Lia, a very young, very gentle, very
frightened, very sad woman whose ethereal aura captures his heart.
He simply falls in love. They meet secretly because she is
terrified of her husband --- or so she says. From this point on, we
enter a "twilight zone" that is at times soulful, disorienting and

Lia's appearance inspires the local sheriff to open an unsolved
murder case that dates back to 1932. After her presence has been
noted, a host of weird events begins to overtake the town. Rose
petals fall like snowflakes, people have trouble discerning the
truth from their dreams, the disputed land freezes in August and
everyday something new emerges to confound, disturb and bring chaos
to the seemingly bucolic town.

In a powerful parallel storyline, we learn about a horrific episode
in Vermont's history, events that Picoult explains in her Author's
Note: " … the Vermont Eugenics Project in the 1920s and 1930s
… is a chapter of history that has only recently been
rediscovered and still causes great pain and shame to Vermonters of
many different cultural backgrounds." She goes on to explain that
her main characters are fictional but the off-stage father of the
program, Henry E. Perkins, was a real person. "… He was a
professor of zoology at the University of Vermont who originated
the Eugenics Survey … in conjunction with his course on
heredity. He believed that through research, public education and
support for legislation, the growing population of [the state's]
most problematic citizens might be reduced. His leadership was
instrumental in bringing about the passage of Vermont's
Sterilization Law in 1931…." At the time, thirty-three other
states had similar laws on their books. But not until after World
War II, when Nazi scientists testified at the war crimes trials
that the "American eugenics programs were the prototypes of their
"racial hygiene plans", did any state even modify these

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, "at [the] Generra Institute in
Maryland, Dr. Meredith Oliver," is [ironically] busy at work "doing
pre-implantation genetic diagnosis…." She specializes in
separating genes that carry inherited diseases from healthy genes
in order for couples to end the genetic defects in their family.
Her daughter, Lucy, is an asthmatic eight-year-old who sees ghosts
and hears them whisper. She is haunted by visitations that terrify
her and Meredith. While she loves her daughter, Meredith is a busy
woman who has little patience for what she thinks are simply
attention-getting outbursts. The child is cared for by her great
grandmother, Ruby, who has secrets of her own.

All of the characters and plot twists in SECOND GLANCE, while
seeming to be "out of this world", are surprisingly credible enough
to make the complexities of this novel work. This is Jodi Picoult's
best book to date. And, for those of you who shiver at the thought
of "things that go bump in the night", have no fear --- this ghost
story will keep you entertained and at times howling with laughter.

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 23, 2011

Second Glance
by Jodi Picoult

  • Publication Date: March 2, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • ISBN-10: 0743454510
  • ISBN-13: 9780743454513