Plain Truth - Review by Chris

The premise of Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult was intriguing: a zealous prosecutor and gleeful police detective accuse an unmarried Amish teenager of murdering her newborn. A defense attorney at her own crossroads takes on the case and comes to terms with her own life and career while doing her job.

Unfortunately, the novel does not live up to this potential. The story loses interest very early with trite characters and unimaginative plot developments. The author throws in a few red herrings, which were frustrating. Worse than that, the final plot twist, while not outside the realm of possibility, presented a wholly unexplored character development.

I have finished mediocre books because of their compelling storylines or satisfactory character development. In this case, the whodunit ensnared me. Unfortunately, its resolution was completely unwelcome and disappointing, and made me wish I had not read the last few pages.

The two Picoult books I have read (Plain Truth and My Sister’s Keeper, and not in that order) follow the same formula: a young woman needs legal assistance. She gets an attorney who, acting as an older sister, provides life lessons, protects her from herself as well as her own family and helps her maneuver through the minefield of the legal system. The attorney encounters a love from the past and surrenders to it. No matter what happens to the defendant, the lawyer lives happily ever after. And watch for the shocking plot twists.

In Plain Truth, the characters’ self-discoveries are unoriginal. The lawyer Ellie burned out winning cases for unsavory people and she assumes this Amish “innocent” is the same. Ellie moves to the Amish family’s farm while preparing for the trial, and the bucolic farm gives space to find herself, away from the big city and her unsatisfactory life. Her old friend — the only one who can help her case — is a college flame who is (conveniently) divorced.

Meanwhile, the defendant Katie is having pedestrian affairs and complications from leaving the farm. The supernatural occurrences central to Katie’s character development are nothing more than a careless and awkward connection to what appears to be an auxiliary character.

Other characters are two-dimensional and offer no surprises: a father whose identity with society supercedes the needs of his family, a mother who bends to her husband’s will but manages a single mutiny that brings about the family’s troubles, a steadfast love who can and must follow his heart at all cost to his dignity and pride, a brother whose banishment causes long-term ripples in the family, a callus and shallow “Englishman” whose intrusion in the family causes the expected lifelong disruption, and a community full of contrived and wholly unoriginal characters.

I do not intend to read another Picoult novel soon. Her formula doesn’t work for me.

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