Have a Little Faith in Me: Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

November 12, 2012 Book Club, Family, Religion 19

This month’s book club for Wine and Whining took place on election night. Our regular venue was inundated with political cocktail parties… Which was annoying. Our venue is normally a terrible open mike night we hide from in a back room while drinking wine and eating desserts. Plus, it’s not like anyone could DO anything except watch voter returns with like 2% of the vote in. See? Whining!

Anyway. The book we read for this month was Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult (oh you like Jodi Picoult? Check out my review of Plain Truth HERE.) From what I could hear over the blare of the bad open mike night, the din of political schmoozing, and the chatter of impecibly coiffed political analysts, it seems that we all agreed on this book (a fairly rare occurrence, I assure you.)

It was great! The novel starts off with us following a somewhat neurotic stay-at-home-mom named Mariah. She builds dollhouses and tiny furniture in her spare time (which CLEARLY is not a pastime you’d expect out of a laid back sort of lady.) She’s married to a traveling salesman named Colin and they have a 7 year old daughter named Faith. Mariah has a history of depression (and really, who doesn’t?) so she copes by keeping her life in methodical order. Each day has its assigned duties, and everything is orderly. Everything is orderly, that is, until she and Faith arrive home during an unscheduled leotard emergency (seriously, is anything involving leotards NOT an emergency?) and catch Colin in a compromising position with another woman.

Mariah crumbles and calls her mom in for backup. Millie arrives and takes care of Faith while Mariah gets back on her meds and spends a week crying in bed. Colin initiates a quickie divorce and takes off to Vegas to marry his newly pregnant mistress. He’s not exactly the best person in the world. Things start to get a little hairy back on the home front when Faith develops a relationship with an imaginary friend she refers to as her “guard.” Mariah was raised Jewish, Colin was raised Christian, but Faith was raised without religion of any kind.

Which is why it gets pretty crazy when her “guard” turns out to be “God.” Faith starts spontaneously healing people and suffering from stigmata. Yep. Stigmata. The literal manifestation of the wounds of Christ. I googled an image of Stigmata, but they were all really disturbing, so I’m saving you some gore here. Also, most of the Stigmata sufferers in google images are Catholic priests and nuns. But Faith? She is a little kid who has ZERO concept of the story of the crucifixion, resurrection, saints, martyrs, or any of the trappings of a Judeo-Christian up-bringing. This fact actually works to her advantage in helping her doctors and therapists  believe the unbelievable. A child from a highly religious household quoting bible verses isn’t really cause for concern… From a kid who’s never SEEN a bible, it’s a bit different. It’s a lot less likely to be a mental disorder and more likely to be… Real.

Enter Ian Fletcher. Ian is a sort of reverse televangelist. He’s like… Mythbusters on religious happenings… Otherwise known as a total buzz kill for the faithful. Colin eventually returns from Vegas and realizes there’s a media circus surrounding his daughter. He decides to sue for custody. I’ve read four Picoult novels now, and every one of them involves a court battle. If you have a violent hatred of lawyers or despise Law & Order, you might want to steer clear of her work. Just a little public service announcement.

Jamie and Adam can sniff out phonies. With science!

I don’t want to be the queen of spoilers, but I will tell you that by the end of the book Faith’s visions seem to have abandoned her. I’m certainly no expert in religious phenomena, but, you know, every reasonably knowledgeable Catholic-raised human knows a few stories of saintly happenings. The Virgin Mary is particularly fond of appearing to children and giving them messages. Unfortunately, celestial visions typically are a short term thing. It’s not like the kids from Fatima got to hang out with Mary every day for the rest of their lives. It’s really up to the reader to interpret Faith’s experiences. Was she really being guided by God? Was she faking it all? Was some other explanation of the events plausible? I myself felt pretty darned warm and fuzzy at the end of this book. The way the story played out gave me a little boost in “faith.”

So Bookworms, let’s be all controversial-like. When presented with the latest instance of Jesus appearing in toast crust or spontaneous healings, are you more the pilgrim type or the skeptic type? Let’s discuss!

19 Responses to “Have a Little Faith in Me: Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult”

  1. Kelly

    When I hear stories like that on the news, I am usually a skeptic. But I loved the ending of this book. I felt very invested in Faith’s character by the end, so a big part of me wanted to believe in her–and the skeptical part of me tugged in the other direction. I like that Picoult left so much of it open to interpretation at the end (more so than many of her other novels).

    • Words for Worms

      Yeah, I’m usually pretty skeptical of those news stories too. I mean, it’s not that I don’t WANT to believe that god chose to manifest him/herself in your breakfast pastry, it’s just… You know. I was tugged in the Faith-ful direction by the end of the story, but there was certainly room for interpretation. Good stuff!

  2. Meg

    Oh I’m a skeptic all the way! But then I’m a somewhat jaded atheist-leaning agnostic who was raised in an ultra-conservative evangelical church, haha.

    I’ve never tried Jodi Picoult as I was under the impression she fell into the sorta lame popular fiction crowd (probably just my literary snobbery talking). Would you recommend her?

    • Words for Worms

      LOL, Oh Meg, you are among my favorite humans I’ve never met in person… Picoult does have a mass appeal, and for me it really depends on the book whether I love or loathe her. I’d put her work sort of on par with Anita Shreve as far as the mass appeal goes. You know, popular but still with some substance? I don’t want to be responsible for telling you to read something you end up hating, but I think giving a Picoult a try might not be the worst idea. How’s that for vague? 🙂

  3. Glenna M

    I’ve read a lot of Jodi Picoult’s novels with mixed success– I loved Salem Falls and The Pact, but I wasn’t a fan of Change of Heart or Perfect Match. Picoult seems to have a thing for crazy mothers! The one theme that I keep finding in all of her books is how a mother’s actions are always justified… but I’ve been more and less convinced of that theme depending on the work.

    I haven’t read this one though and your review has made me want to put it on my list!

    • Words for Worms

      Oh yes, Picoult is a mixed bag for sure. I was not a fan of The Pact- in fact, it took me years to pick up another one of her books after I finished it. I really liked this one, and Plain Truth (the one about the Amish). I haven’t read Salem Falls- what’s the scenario there? I might need to try it!

  4. Liesel Hill

    I’m actually very religious, which is why I tend to be skeptical of such stories. I’m one who believes God has better things to do than etch his image into toast so it will go viral on youtube. Just sayin. I’m not a huge Piccoult fan, though I admit I’ve never given her much of a shot. I started one book by her and never finished it. i actually really liked her writing style, but her subject matter and where she goes with it often feel somewhat…off to me. Maybe I should give her stuff another shot, though. Great review! 😀

    • Words for Worms

      You make an excellent point, Liesel! With all the wars and famine and suffering it would seem God would be a little on the busy side to be showing up in breakfast foods. You might actually like this book, it’s kind of about giving the skeptics of the world some faith. Of all her books, so far this one I think might be my favorite. (Shhh don’t tell the Amish book)

  5. didibooksenglish

    I’m skeptical too and I went to Catholic school from Grade 1to 12. However the book sounds really interesting. I’ve not read any of Picoult’s novels. That’s not snobbery just read other things that interested me more. Her writing appeals to the masses but I’m not against that. Which of her novels would you suggest I read first?

    • Words for Worms

      You know, I can’t recommend one over another really, except to say I didn’t care for The Pact. I’d just pick one with a subject you’re interested in and give it a shot.

  6. Lyssapants

    Skeptic. I’ve read several of Jodi’s books (not this one), and even though they are all pretty much the same, I find myself circling back to her every so often when I need an easy read and courtroom drama.

    • Words for Worms

      Your skepticism doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Jodi’s books are all easy reads with courtroom drama, and they all kind of follow the same formula. Bad idea to read them all in a row, I think 🙂

  7. It's A Dome Life

    I haven’t read this book, but there is something interesting about the whole stigmata thing. I’ve read several books and seen several horror movies around the topic. I mean, I am a total skeptic, but it’s also sort of creepy when religion is involved which sort of draws you in because what if it is true? I found your review to be pretty funny and even though the courtroom drama seems to pop up in every book I still think I might like to read this one. I mean, stigmata is more entertaining than changing diapers, am I right?

  8. Rhian

    I’ve only read two Picoult books, The Pact which was interesting enough, and My Sister’s Keeper (before the movie) which was quite excellent and presented all sides of a complex issue really well. Until the end, which sucked *so badly* I will never read one of her books again.

    • Words for Worms

      Ah yes, the “twist” at the end of My Sister’s Keeper (the book) was something else. The Pact is the one I couldn’t handle though. It made me irrationally angry for no good reason.

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