The BookBrowse Review

Published September 16, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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  • Blog:
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  • Book Giveaway:
    Memorial Drive
    by Natasha Trethewey
Book Jacket

The Book of Two Ways
by Jodi Picoult
22 Sep 2020
432 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN-13: 9781984818355
Genre: Novels
Critics:
Readers:
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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light comes a riveting novel about the choices that alter the course of our lives.

Everything changes in a single moment for Dawn Edelstein. She's on a plane when the flight attendant makes an announcement: Prepare for a crash landing. She braces herself as thoughts flash through her mind. The shocking thing is, the thoughts are not of her husband but of a man she last saw fifteen years ago: Wyatt Armstrong.

Dawn, miraculously, survives the crash, but so do all the doubts that have suddenly been raised. She has led a good life. Back in Boston, there is her husband, Brian, their beloved daughter, and her work as a death doula, in which she helps ease the transition between life and death for her clients.

But somewhere in Egypt is Wyatt Armstrong, who works as an archaeologist unearthing ancient burial sites, a career Dawn once studied for but was forced to abandon when life suddenly intervened. And now, when it seems that fate is offering her second chances, she is not as sure of the choice she once made.

After the crash landing, the airline ensures that the survivors are seen by a doctor, then offers transportation to wherever they want to go. The obvious destination is to fly home, but she could take another path: return to the archaeological site she left years before, reconnect with Wyatt and their unresolved history, and maybe even complete her research on The Book of Two Ways—the first known map of the afterlife.

As the story unfolds, Dawn's two possible futures unspool side by side, as do the secrets and doubts long buried with them. Dawn must confront the questions she's never truly asked: What does a life well lived look like? When we leave this earth, what do we leave behind? Do we make choices...or do our choices make us? And who would you be if you hadn't turned out to be the person you are right now?

"The dual-life construct can be confusing, and readers may find it not sufficiently explained, but Dawn's story offers keen insight on the limits of love. Picoult's fans will appreciate this multifaceted, high-concept work." - Publishers Weekly

"Whether on death and dying, archaeology, or quantum physics, Picoult's erudition overload far exceeds the interests of verisimilitude or theme...A midlife crisis story stifled by enough material for several TED talks." - Kirkus Reviews

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Cloggie Downunder
interesting and thought-provoking
The Book of Two Ways is the twenty-fourth adult novel by award-winning, best-selling American author, Jodi Picoult. By some miraculous quirk of fate, Dawn Edelstein is one of a handful survivors of a plane crash. During the crash, her thoughts go, not to her family, but to Egyptologist and former lover, Wyatt Armstrong, last seen fifteen years earlier, and the dissertation she never completed. Instead of going home to her husband and daughter, Dawn flies to Cairo, heading for the dig where she believes Wyatt will be. Her sole intention is to complete her dissertation.
Or:
By some miraculous quirk of fate, Dawn Edelstein is one of a handful survivors of a plane crash. During the crash, her thoughts go, not to her family, but to Egyptologist and former lover, Wyatt Armstrong, last seen fifteen years earlier, and the dissertation she never completed. Dawn returns to Boston, to her job as a death doula, to a marriage strained by a recent incident and to a teenaged daughter unsettled by self-image and hints of tension between her parents.

Dawn in Egypt recalls her childhood with her superstitious Irish mother, her three seasons in Egypt, and the thrill of discovery: a new tomb and a new lover. As she once again works a dig, her earlier time shared with Wyatt is uppermost in her mind: how their relationship, both professional and personal, began, developed into a fiery passion for work and each other, and then was cut short in a mercy dash back to Boston.

Dawn in Boston is reminded of her sudden return from Egypt to a dying mother, a hospice, guardianship of a teenaged brother, and the overwhelming responsibility settling on her shoulders. With her marriage now a little wobbly, she thinks back to meeting Brian Edelstein and their shared life. At the same time, Dawn attends a new client, a dying woman of her own age with some parallels to Dawn’s life.

As chapters alternate between Egypt and Boston, yielding certain pieces of information, it seems Picoult is taking the reader on two of many possible future life paths of a woman whose thoughts, feelings and emotions have been distilled by a near-death experience. Or, at least, that’s how it looks for most of the novel, until Picoult throws the reader for a loop.

This is a very cleverly constructed story, although mixed ratings indicate that not all readers appreciate the ride. Picoult has patently done a mountain of research. Some of the Egyptology is a little heavy going: the brain tends to skip over tongue-twister Egyptian names and the photographs are indistinct but hieroglyphs are clear; the stories, myths and legends are captivating, as are the Irish superstitions and the death customs. The role of the death doula is fascinating and if the quantum mechanics is quite involved, the concept of parallel universes and alternate potential futures is intriguing.

As usual, Picoult’s characters are larger than life, if not always entirely endearing. Dawn seems to have some double standards and readers may not find her apparently easy switch between lovers easy to forgive. As always, interesting and thought-provoking.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Allen & Unwin.

Jodi Picoult is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of twenty-five novels, including Small Great Things, Leaving Time, The Storyteller, Lone Wolf, Sing You Home, House Rules, Handle with Care, Change of Heart, Nineteen Minutes, and My Sister's Keeper. She is also the author, with daughter Samantha van Leer, of two young adult novels, Between the Lines and Off the Page. Picoult lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.

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