Writer’s Wednesday: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult – like all of her brilliant novels – tangle with the more difficult questions. Who’s got the right to forgive? Can murder ever be justice? Or mercy?
You will ask me, after this, why I didn’t tell you this before.
It is because I know how powerful a story can be. It can change the course of history. It can save a life. But it can also be a sink-hole, a quicksand in which you become stuck, unable to write yourself free.
You would think bearing witness to something like this would make a difference, and yet this isn’t so. In the newspapers I have read about history repeating itself in Cambodia. Rwanda. Sudan.
Truth is so much harder than fiction. Some survivors want to speak only of what happened. They go to schools and museums and temples and give talks. It’s the way they can make sense of it, I suppose. I’ve heard them say they feel it is their responsibility, maybe even the reason they lived.
My husband – your grandfather – used to say, Minka, you were a writer. Imagine the story you could tell.
But it is exactly because I was a writer that I could never do it.
The weapons an author has at her disposal are flawed. There are words that feel shapeless and overused. Love, for example. I could write the word love a thousand times and it would mean a thousand different things to different readers.
What is the point of trying to put down on paper emotions that are too complex, too huge, too overwhelming to be confined by an alphabet?
Love isn’t the only word that fails.
Hate does, too.
And hope. Oh, yes, hope.
So you see, this is why I never told my story.
If you lived through it, you already know there are no words that will ever come close to describing it.
And if you didn’t, you will never understand.
It’s the story of a small-town baker hiding from the world, until she strikes up a friendship with a man old enough to be her grandfather – with a story of evil he’s kept a secret for most of his life. How do ordinary people end up able to commit horrific crimes?
Did I know this brutality was wrong? Even that first time, when my brother was the victim? I have asked myself a thousand times, and the answer is always the same: of course. That day was the hardest, because I could have said no. Every time after that, it became easier, because if I didn’t do it again, I would be reminded of that first time I did not say no. Repeat the same action over and over again, and eventually it will feel right. Eventually, there isn’t even any guilt.
What I mean to tell you, now, is that the same truth holds. This could be you, too. You think never. You think, not I. But at any given moment, we are capable of doing what we least expect. I always knew what I was doing, and to whom I was doing it. I knew, very well. Because in those terrible, wonderful moments, I was the person everyone wanted to be.
I don’t want to give too many details away, suffice it to say that Picoult is as thought-provoking as ever. She’s a master at pulling at your heart-strings while making it completely impossible to continue to see the world in black and white – which is why she’s one of my favourite writers.
As always I invite you to find me and connect with me on Goodreads.