Jodi Picoult’s novel Second Glance impressed me enormously. Vanishing Acts can also boast fascinating characters, stylish writing and a cleverly constructed plot, this time using the forms of courtroom drama, prison novel, and love triangle. Or maybe triangle isn’t quite the right word – except that any polygon, however complex, can be broken down into triangles.
Vanishing Acts is yet another well told tale by Jodi Picoult, who is a master at character development. Once again telling the story through first person accounts of the main characters, she weaves together a family drama centered on a “kidnapping” that had occurred 28 years earlier.
Delia Hopkins is an expert at finding missing persons, with the help of a Search and Rescue bloodhound named Greta. She never suspects that she is also a missing person herself, until police come to her house to arrest her father for having kidnapped her twenty-eight years earlier. She learns that his real name is Charles Matthews, not Andrew Hopkins – and that the mother she thought long dead is still alive.
Delia calls her two best friends for help – Eric, her fiancé and the father of her four-year-old daughter Sophie, and their oldest friend, Fitz. Eric agrees, despite his better judgment, to defend Delia’s father; Fitz, a reporter, is sent to Arizona to cover Andrew’s trial as part of a series of `Strange but True’ stories. Eric inadvertently alienates the judge, who sets Andrew’s bail at two million dollars. While Andrew learns how to survive in the violent world of an Arizona jail, Delia, Eric and Fitz go looking for Delia’s mother, Elise, and Delia’s forgotten past. Delia discovers that she and Eric have yet one more thing in common – both of their mothers were hopeless alcoholics, too often too drunk to properly care for their children. And like her, her mother had two men in her life.
Because Eric has also been an alcoholic since his teens, and is now too scared even to drink coffee because of the buzz, Delia becomes even more convinced that her father made the right choice by taking her away from her home. Acting within the law might have been disastrous: in the 1970s, Eric reminds the court, custody was almost always awarded to the mother, no matter how poor a parent she might be. The prosecution, however, casts doubt on Andrew’s version of events, and soon the whole case hinges on unreliable and unverifiable memories.
Vanishing Acts is a superbly suspenseful courtroom drama with plenty of twists, as well as an unusual love story. But most importantly, it’s a well-written story that transcends the restrictions of genres and marketing categories because of Picoult’s remarkable gift for creating wonderfully well-rounded and multi-layered characters.
The plot tends to get complex, because it is. The characters speak to you like they are supposed to. The book remains in your thoughts longer than you think it would. All in all, it is one of those books that you cannot seem to forget easy. Picoult uses several different voices which lead the reader to, in pieces, discover the history of the family tragedy. Once again, Picoult makes us think about complex issues and even our own history while weaving a story that is so captivating you can’t put the book down.
Vanishing Acts; Picoult, Jodi; Hodder and Stoughton; Hachette Books; Rs. 295