Salem Falls

by Jodi Picoult

Published by Pocket Books

434 pages, 2001


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Witch Hunt

Reviewed by Lynne Remick

 

In the case of Jodi Picoult, not seven, but eight, is magic. In this acclaimed writer's stellar eighth novel, she deals with yet another intriguing and innovative topic -- a modern day witch hunt.

Salem Falls brings the Crucible into the 21st century via Jack St. Bride, a handsome school teacher wrongly accused of statutory rape by a prep school student with a crush. With a trial looming, Jack faces the decision of his life -- suffer for eight months in jail and get out quickly or endure the remainder of years locked in a cell. On the advice of his attorney, a reluctant Jack cops a plea and serves the time.

Leaving prison and his past behind him, Jack plants new roots in the small and quiet town of Salem Falls. There, working in a diner, he finds a peaceful existence and a blossoming romance with proprietor Addie Peabody. However, unbeknownst to Jack, trouble in Salem Falls grows in many shapes and sizes: a cocky police officer named Wes Courtmanche with a thing for Addie and an ax to grind, a powerful, overly protective father named Amos Duncan with hidden motives and a spirited, determined young girl named Gillian Duncan who wishes to kill her father.

Gillian had been the first to try Wicca, after finding it on a website for teen witches on the Internet. It wasn't Satan worship, like adults thought. And it wasn't all love spells, like kids thought, either. It was simply the belief that the world had an energy all its own. Put that way, it wasn't so mysterious. Who hadn't walked through the woods and felt the air humming? Or stepped onto the snow and felt the ground reach up for one's body heat?

She was glad to have Meg and Whitney and Chelsea as part of her coven--but they didn't practice in quite the same way Gillian did. For them, it was a lark. For Gilly, it was a saving grace. And there was one spell she didn't share with the others, one spell she tried every single day, in the hope that one of these afternoons it would work.

Like Catherine Marsh who accused Jack of rape, Gillian wishes to sample Jack's silent charm. But she's not the only one out to get Jack. Wes Courtmanche finds Jack a threat to his relationship with Addie and Jack's criminal record is just the weapon to use against him. Amos Duncan needs no more information to justify making Jack's life miserable. In this case, miserable comes in the form of a rape accusation and an outraged Salem Falls.

Struggling with her own skeletons, rumors about Jack's past send Addie Peabody reeling. Faced with losing another person she loves, Addie must sift through the rubble to find the truth about Jack's past and present, before he's "burned at the stake."

Jodi Picoult performs literary magic in this fast-paced romantic legal thriller. Instead of using characters punched from cardboard cutouts, Picoult creates captivating personalities, each with their own motivations and their own truths to hide. As a result, even the subplots are gripping, although she never lets them outshine Jack and Addie's story.

Once again, Picoult addresses important, timely issues -- the question of the protection versus the danger afforded by Megan's Law, the accuracy of DNA testing and, ultimately, the age-old question of the meaning of love and how far a person should carry it. While watching love stretch in Salem Falls proves painful, it hooks the reader into questioning their own beliefs and involves them in the story. As a result, Salem Falls is a book that's difficult to put down.

As one accustomed to Picoult's unique brand of suspense, inimitable style, compelling courtroom drama, flowing eloquence and signature choice of controversial topics, I am gratified by Picoult's treatment of the core story of the Crucible. Picoult's outstanding efforts in this regard elevate her to new heights --few authors could have carried this story off as well as Picoult has in Salem Falls. | July 2001

 

An avid reader, established reviewer and writer of poetry, non-fiction, fiction, historical romance and children's books, Lynne Remick can always be found with a book in her hand. She lives in New York with her fiancé Michael, her son Kevin, her Schipperke Dante, a feral cat named Sahara and a spoiled hedgehog named Nike. There, in a little house once owned by her Great Grandparents, she reads, writes stories, book reviews, writing columns and poetry.