Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

The dictionary defines the word “plain” as “clearly understood; unmistakable; straightforward; candid,” and so a novel with the title Plain Truth would lead readers to expect a straightforward, candid, easily understood story. But, in her novel of that name, the adjective in Jodi Picoult’s title refers to the description of a body of people, the Amish, who live in the 21st century while choosing not to participate in many of the trappings of modernism. Without the advanced technology available to other farmers, they utilize their own labor to produce remarkable crops, and they rely on their families and their neighbors to help them through whatever travails and tragedies they encounter along lif’e's journey. They have a stong, unbending faith in their God and know that He will not send more burdens than they can endure.

Even the “plain truth” is never so plain that it is unmistakable, and all of us have seen instances wherein what clearly appears to be so is not so at all. The plot of Plain Truth is one which lawyers can argue is a simpe case of neonaticide, or killing of a newborn child. In recent years, many such cases have made headlines and ultimately the legal results have been based on intent to kill more than on amy other factor. In this book, the case of a teenager who gives birth to a child in her father’s barn, cuts the umbilical cord and then returns to her own bed, later to discover that a dead baby is found lying under a pile of blankets, seems to be a clear-cut case of murder.

The attorney who agrees to argue fo the defense is a distant relative of the young girl and is herself undergoing a crisis of identity. She accepts the case reluctantly and also accepts the responsibility of monitoring her client’s activities as a condition of keeping her out of jail while the case proceeds. This means that she must move into the farm for an undetermined period, leaving behind all the trappings of civilization as she knows it: no telephone, no electricity and thus no computer, FAX or even air conditioning during the hot summer months. She feels that she is the one who has drawn a sentence.

As the plot unfolds, the reader becomes familiar with the ways of the Plain People and cannot help but admire their adherence to a moral code far too rigid for most of us to observe. Their fierce loyalty to one another and the depth of their willingness to forgive even the unforgiveable is astounding to those outside their circle.
What makes the book a page-turner is its ability to convince the reader that he or she has solved the mystery of what happened in the barn, only to make the plain truth less plain in the following chapter. Just as there are many truths even when there are no lies, it becomes clear that nothing is clear. The reader hurries along from chapter to chapter, discovering new information at every turn. Not until the penultimate page does the author allow the reader to look into the heart of the mystery and learn what has previously remained hidden. Even then, the “plain truth” is clouded by individual perceptions of right vs wrong.

I recommend this book to a reader looking for a mystery unlike the ordinary “whodunit” in which one murder leads to another and corpses clutter the landscape. This one has a spiritual aspect seldom found in books under the mystery genre. Check it out!

Ann Dow

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