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updated: 3/13/2013 11:29 AM

Picoult's 'Storyteller' is structural failure

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  • "The Storyteller" by Jodi Picoult

    "The Storyteller" by Jodi Picoult

Associated Press

Reading Jodi Picoult novels is sort of like watching episodes of "Law & Order." There's a fairly routine formula, a couple of twists, as well as a courtroom scene. And more often than not, it works.

In "The Storyteller," Picoult breaks the pattern to a degree, and fails, badly.

The novel is about Sage Singer, a young woman from a Jewish background who becomes friends with Josef, an older German man in town. Soon, Josef asks Sage to help him die, a fate he says he deserves because he was a Nazi officer.

Sage decides instead to report Josef to the authorities, who encourage her to find out more about him. In the process, Sage learns more about her grandmother Minka's own story of surviving the Holocaust, a tale that -- in an unsurprising surprise -- has links to that of Josef's.

In typical Picoult style, each chapter is told through the eyes of a different character. At the heart of the book is the tale of Minka -- a captivating, haunting, gut-wrenching Holocaust story. It is the strongest part of the book, and a big chunk of it.

But the rest of "The Storyteller" is a mess. There are too many coincidences, too many unnecessary twists and too many quirky characters that distract more than anything else. Sage, for instance, is a baker. But did her boss really have to be an ex-nun? And what was the point of Sage being in a relationship with a married man? And he had to work at a funeral home? Seriously?

There's no standard Picoult courtroom drama at the end of "The Storyteller," but that's a relief -- it's an overly busy novel that tries to do way too much as it is.

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