Thursday, June 29, 2017

'Small Great Things' by Jodi Picoult

29 June 2017

Jodi Picoult's novel 'Small Great Things', which I have just finished reading (as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Noma Dumezweni, Jeff Harding and Jennifer Woodward), is a very impressive exploration of racism in contemporary America. When Ruth Jefferson, an experienced and highly respected nurse working in a hospital in Newhaven, Connecticut, is removed from caring for a newborn baby because his white supremacist parents do not want an African American touching their son, she is understandably angry and upset. When the baby then dies suddenly and unexpectedly, Ruth finds herself suspended and charged with murder. But 'Small Great Things' resists the melodrama this plot suggests and focuses instead on the prejudices, explicit and implicit, of everyone involved. Telling the story through the eyes of Ruth, her white liberal lawyer and the baby's skinhead father, Picoult alternates narrators, often overlapping different views of the same scene. She makes all these characters very real and believable - even making the fascist father almost sympathetic. Ultimately she shows the unconscious racism of well-meaning people like the liberal lawyer to be as damaging as the more blatant prejudice practised by the baby's parents. I was struck by her distinction between 'equality' and 'equity' - suggesting that treating everyone the same is often not enough to redress the balance. What appears, initially, to be a fairly grim thriller turns into a thought-provoking examination with well drawn characters and some beautiful writing.



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