Prather’s Pick: A new Picoult novel
On a recent shopping trip, I turned up the aisle where books are displayed and spotted a new novel by Jodi Picoult. She is a master storyteller and one of my favorite authors so I couldn’t resist buying the hardcover book. “The Book of Two Ways” is published by Ballantine Books (2020).
Picoult is the author of twenty-four novels, and I think it’s safe to say that each one is crafted around a “theme.” The theme for this book is “Egyptology.” (The reader will find a bibliography at the end of the book.) The title of the novel came from Picoult’s son, Kyle Ferriera van Leer, who majored in Egyptology at Yale in 2010. He mentioned the Book of Two Ways one day, and Picoult thought it would be a great title for a novel.
Later, the author found that the Book of Two Ways is the first known book of afterlife found in certain coffins in Middle Egypt. The map involves making choices, just as Dawn Edelstein, the main character, has to make as this week’s novel unfolds—although the choices involve life issues.
In the Prologue to the novel, the reader meets Dawn as she travels on a plane. She is remembering her clients, now deceased. Dawn is a death doula, a worker who helps ease the transition between life and death for her clients. (A little later the reader will learn that she is helping Winifred Morse and her husband Felix through the death process.)
Suddenly there is an announcement. The passengers are told to prepare themselves for a crash landing. At a moment when death seems very real, Dawn doesn’t think about her husband Brian and daughter Meret back in Boston. She doesn’t think about her brother, Kieran, a neurosurgery resident, either. Instead, she envisions Wyatt Armstrong, an archaeologist, who she met while studying in Egypt.
The plane crashes, and Dawn is one of thirty-six survivors. As she waits in a hospital to be checked out, Dawn asks herself many “why” questions, such as why she booked that particular flight or what would have happened if she had been detained before the flight. (It’s the beginning of many questions she will have for herself during the novel’s events.)
The reader will learn more about the flight later, but the novel begins as Dawn arrives in Cairo. She takes a taxi to the Dig House, a place she knows well because that’s where Dawn was studying for her graduate student thesis. The subject was the” Book of Two Ways.” During her time there, Dawn met Wyatt. They fell in love, but she did not complete her dissertation. Instead, she returned to Boston and married Brian. Now she’s back in Egypt.
The plot is mysterious, full of flashbacks, doubts, questions, and a secret. It’s Picoult at her best. The reader will learn a little about the history of the Egyptian tombs, too.
This novel costs about $29.00. You will find it where books are sold.
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This morning I was talking about this week’s column with my son Jody, who lives in Vernal. I told him that the idea for the column was to point out that it is all too…