Jodi Picoult is one of the best fiction writers out there today. Never one to shy away from controversial topics, she has a gift for presenting both sides of an issue and leaving readers to decide for themselves which point of view is the correct one. In her new novel, A Spark of Light, she confronts abortion and a woman’s right to choose head-on.
A gunman has burst into Mississippi’s only remaining abortion clinic, killing several staff members and wounding some of the patients. Not everyone is there for an abortion; some are only there to receive medical care or birth control. The story is told in reverse, allowing readers to trace back to what caused such a tragedy and how the cast of characters arrived at the clinic that fateful day.
For A Spark of Light, Picoult interviewed both pro-life and pro-choice advocates and loosely based one of her characters on the Christian abortion doctor, Willie Parker, who compares abortion restrictions to slavery and believes he is doing moral good by providing women with abortions. Picoult also shadowed Parker when researching her novel, watching as he performed three different abortions – one at five weeks, eight weeks and fifteen weeks.
Picoult includes in her author’s note at the end of the book that for the early stage abortions, she “saw the products of conception, and there was nothing to suggest, to the naked eye, a dead baby.” These observations are worked into the story, and at times the novel can be quite graphic, especially with the fifteen week abortion, which is described in detail and was quite frankly, emotionally draining to read. Picoult herself even admits that among the remains of that procedure are “tiny, recognizable body parts.”
She spoke with over 150 women who have terminated a pregnancy – the majority think of their choice daily but only one told the author that they regret that choice.
Surprisingly, there is no anti-gun rhetoric in the novel, especially since it centers on a shooting at the clinic.
A Spark of Light is not a beach read. The subject matter is heavy, yet engaging and opens up all kinds of moral discussions for either side of the abortion debate. Picoult does a pretty good job at balancing viewpoints, however readers will be able to tell which side she favors based on the way some of the characters are portrayed.
What left me as a pro-life advocate especially sad was that even after observing several abortions and admitting a fetus is a life, Picoult still believes that the rights of women should be protected over that of an unborn baby. In her end notes, she uses the age old argument that criminalizing abortion won’t stop women from getting them and by keeping it legal, we are protecting women from complications and even death from at home attempts to terminate pregnancies.
Picoult also laments that both sides hold deep and unshakable convictions that they are right. Instead of shouting at each other or “demonizing” the opposing viewpoint, she suggests we talk with each other, listen and respect opinions even if we don’t agree with them. That’s refreshing to hear, especially in this current, toxic war between liberals and conservatives.
While I don’t share Picoult’s views on a woman’s right to choose, I applaud her for tackling a tough issue, writing about it in a fairly balanced manner and showing kindness to the pro-life movement.
4 out of 5 stars.