What?!: Jodi Picoult does lesbians

I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that lesbians feature in Jodi Picoult’s forthcoming novel SING YOU HOME (Atria, March 1, 2011). She’s tackled amnesia, autism, murder, and abuse  in her 17  novels so really, what else is there? Lesbians! Here’s an excerpt from the synopsis on her website:

“SING YOU HOME explores what it means to be gay in today’s world, and how reproductive science has outstripped the legal system. Are embryos people or property? What challenges do same-sex couples face when it comes to marriage and adoption? What happens when religion and sexual orientation – two issues that are supposed to be justice-blind – enter the courtroom? And most importantly, what constitutes a “traditional family” in today’s day and age?”

My initial reaction was to groan inwardly. I mean, there’s even a trailer! Then, I got huffy: What does she know about being gay in today’s world? About lesbians? How can she exploit a hot-button issue just to get attention and sell books? Then, I had a glass of wine.

Picoult knows as much about lesbians as Anne Proulx, author of Brokeback Mountain,  knows about gay men. Or, as much as Truman Capote, Charles Dickens, and Haruki Murakami know about women and Patricia Highsmith, Carson McCullers, and Margaret Atwood know about men. Writers, good writers, are able to create characters on the page that seem genuine and believable enough to walk right off it, and, as we’ve seen from stacks of great literature, a gifted author’s work is not limited by his or her own experience but by their own unique powers of imagination, sympathy, and intellect.

Full disclosure: I’ve never read any Picoult as her brand of women’s fiction just doesn’t sing to me but she’s had a long, successful career as a novelist, no easy task, which says to me that her books resonate with a large popular audience and, at the very least, she’s a good storyteller. Her stock-in-trade subject is families and relationships, so it’s really no surprise that the story of a same-sex couple trying to have children has captured her attention. Will she add anything new to the issue? Probably not, but given how wildly successful her books are she may open a few eyes to the inequalities, challenges, and trials of same-sex love, partnership, and parenthood. Maybe she’ll even turn a few hearts. I will be very curious to see how this book does compared to her others and how her reader’s react—will the lesbian characters turn fans off? Bring her some new ones? Not matter at all? We’ll have to wait and see.

What do think about straight authors writing gay characters?

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