Dave and I have been listening to Jodi Picoult’s novel Small Great Things on our drive back to Manitoba from Arizona. It is a loooooooooong book! Nearly sixteen hours of listening. Jodi always addresses a social issue in her novels and presents ethical dilemmas for her readers to consider. The issue in Small Great Things is racism and the ethical dilemma is faced by a black labor and delivery nurse named Ruth. She has been told by her supervisor not to touch the baby of a white supremacist couple Britt and Turk Bauer after they complain about having a black woman care for their baby. But the newborn goes into cardiac arrest when Ruth happens to be the only staff person in the nursery. She must decide whether to try to save the baby’s life or follow the orders she has been given not to touch the child. Due to her decision she is fired and charged with murder in the baby’s death.
Jodi Picoult is known for her meticulous research and this book helps you learn almost too much about how newborns are cared for in hospitals, how court cases are researched, the incredibly scary world of white supremacists in America, and the effects of racism on communities, society and individuals. Jodi says in an afterword she did not write this book so much to show the burden African-Americans carry because of the color of their skin, but rather to show white Americans how racist they are, even if they think they aren’t.
I was concerned about how the book would end because Jodi can sometimes give you a surprise ending that is troubling and unsatisfying. I kept telling Dave what I was worried would happen. This book did not end the way I predicted and left some of my questions unanswered but I was satisfied with it.
Jodi’s books always have multiple narrators and this story is told by Ruth the nurse, Turk Bauer the white supremacist and Kennedy McQuarrie Ruth’s lawyer. Perhaps because I was listening to it rather than reading it, I sometimes felt that Jodi repeated too many things in her consecutive narratives instead of always moving the story ahead as quickly as she might have. I did think the novel could have used a good edit and as I listened kept thinking of parts I would have slashed.
Still this was a good story that kept us engaged as we drove through eight different states. In fact listening to this story set in America while driving through America added to its appeal and made it even more thought-provoking.
Note: The title comes from a quote by Martin Luther King
If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way