Jodi Picoult’s Second Glance: a Ghost Story

Whether you believe in ghosts or believe, as this author does, in the power of the imagination to bring to life the unacknowledged legacies of the past to haunt the present, Second Glance is, despite some weaknesses, a thought provoking read. In this story, the ghosts are real, and though I was willing to suspend my disbelief in the supernatural, I confess I was disappointed in the end.  

Picoult A Second Glance

In the Vermont village of Comtosook, a developer’s bid to purchase land claimed by the Native Americans as a burial ground has roused the ghosts of the past, especially the victim of an unsolved murder—Lia Pike—and her stillborn infant.

The mystery surrounding Lia’s 1932 hanging swirls around aged Spencer Pike, husband of the victim and owner of the property, and equally aged Az Thompson, the native American who led protests against Pike. As the past emerges, so does Pike’s leadership of the Eugenics Movement, a historic effort to create a superior race of New Englanders through sterilization of inferior families.  Against that background, the love stories of both Pike and Thompson mix in disastrous ways.

The lives of the two become the link to the present as their histories entangle others whose lives are colored by loss, grief, and loneliness. Ghost hunter, Ross Wakeman has lost his love in a car accident and wishes only to die and join her. Ross’s sister, Shelby, is a single mother whose son suffers from a rare genetic allergy to the sun. Meredith Oliver, a genetic therapist, is a single mother also whose daughter lives in terror of spirits that visit in the night. Eli Rochert, the sheriff of Comtosook, suffers from the loss of his wife. Each becomes entangled in the tragedy of Lia Pike.

I found the central core of the story—the interaction of the hanging with genetic selection—engrossing, but in the end I was let down. The supernatural elements seem overdone and frequently more distracting than relevant. The spiritual disturbances in the town may appeal to ghost story readers, but for me they are unnecessary frills, designed more to entertain than reveal anything about the story. Disturbances closer to the central characters are, to my mind, also overdone. More importantly, Picoult’s resolutions simply dissolve and desert the issues she’s raised. I’ve found this before in Jodi Picoult’s work, which is particularly disappointing because when she follows through, as in The Storyteller, she is great.

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