Newborn baby found
dead in Amish barn. Smothered?
Girl charged with murder.
Like many female readers I know, I love Jodi Picoult. She tackles tough issues straight from the headlines, but in a way that every woman becomes the protagonist.
I was looking for her latest book at my local bookstore. They didn't have it yet, but they did have Plain Truth. I'm fascinated by Amish culture, so I bought it and read it in a handful of sittings.
Plain Truth is about an investigation into a newborn baby found dead in an Amish barn. The farmer's unmarried, teenage daughter looks like a woman who has recently given birth, and she is suspected of murder.
She swears she was not pregnant, though, that there was no baby, and for some reason, Ellie Hathaway, the distant cousin who is her defense attorney, believes she is telling the truth.
On one level, Plain Truth is a simple mystery: whose baby was it and how did it die? On that level, it works exceedingly well. The final answer doesn't come until the final page, and though the reader is certain, several times, that she's figured it out, Picoult always has a surprise looming.
But it's another level where the real beauty of this book shows because it isn't just the mystery. It's also an exquisite, clear-eyed study of a culture, a culture often at cross-purposes with the legal defense of a young girl.
Picoult's research is nothing if not complete. In addition to more traditional research, Picoult lived for a period on an Amish farm, and had an experience very similar to that of her protagonist, the worldly attorney caught in a timeless, culture warp.
And the research shows. All the details are correct: the details you already know but also a much deeper study of the mindset.
As I said, I love Jodi Picoult. I've never read one of her books without spending weeks afterward mulling over the issues, thinking about the characters, wondering what I would have done in their place.
But even among Picoult's books, Plain Truth has a grace, a spare elegance of language and presentation. Mingled with hold-your-breath pacing, the writing lifts this novel above the others.
Women's fiction just doesn't get any better than this.