Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book Review: Harvesting the Heart, by Jodi Pico

Harvesting the Heart explores the issues and the emotions of a young woman overcome by the demands of having a family.

This book, as Picoult's generally do, alternates between different points of view and periods in time. In this case, the story is told by Paige (in the first person) and from her husband, Nicholas's point of view, but in the third person. Since Paige's parts are told in the first person and Nicholas's in the third, I personally felt a lot closer to Paige's character. I also didn't like Nicholas particularly, and I'll get to why in just a minute.

Paige has some significant demons in her past to overcome. When she was five, her mother disappeared. An only child, she was raised by her father. When she was 18, she had an abortion. This led to a breakup with her boyfriend, and, worried that her father might somehow discover her secret, she chose to run away instead of waiting just a few months until leaving for college. She had been accepted by the Rhode Island School of Design and wanted to study art. Her interest didn't seem to have really waned, and I didn't think she was even having doubts about college. So, she'd had the abortion because she wasn't ready to handle motherhood and wanted to go to college, but then she didn't end up going to college anyway. She ran away to Massachusetts (from Chicago) and got a job in a seedy diner, where she worked as a waitress but also drew pictures of the customers. She was very good at drawing, and also had a uncanny ability to include things about the person in the drawing that she had no real way of knowing, as if drawing a person gave her a glimpse into their subconscious.

Paige met Nicholas at the diner. His life had been one of privilege. He and Paige hadn't known each other very long at all when he asked her to marry him. They got married and several years later had a kid, which was basically when Paige's life fell apart. She quickly became overwhelmed with the demands of motherhood, and Nicholas wasn't at all understanding. He didn't really help at all. In fairness, he worked very long hours as a heart surgeon, so he didn't have a whole lot of time to help, but his lack of understanding was basically why I didn't like him. He didn't understand that while he got few breaks, Paige got NO break, since mothering is a 24/7 job. He would play with the baby a little bit (maybe) and think it was easy and why was Paige bitching so much?

The other reason I didn't like him was that he would do things like insist she entertain a bunch of snobby people and say he was doing it for her, which was bullshit. He was doing it for himself, to further his own career, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I thought he should at least be honest about it. If he were really doing it just for her, he would have quit, since she didn't want to do it and would rather have had more of his time. She was not materialistic or hung up with status.

Anyway, Paige eventually couldn't take it anymore and ran off. I think post-partum depression was likely a major factor. She searches for her mother and tries to deal with her past. She does find her mother and spends some time with her. In the process learns more about herself and her own motives. In the meantime, Nicholas learns that it's not so easy trying to raise an infant. He ends up asking his estranged parents for help. Paige eventually returns, but Nicholas, understandably angry at her for leaving, isn't particularly inclined to forgive her. Even though anyone would be mad about that, I thought he was particularly unforgiving, but maybe that's just because I didn't like him in the first place. Interestingly, his parents are more understanding, especially his mother. His mother, while she had not left her family, had had her own rather difficult quest for her own identity, so she could empathize with Paige more than Nicholas could.

Don't get me wrong; I don't really think it was right for Paige to just leave her baby like that. I don't understand how she could. But I guess I really believe that she just couldn't take it anymore and didn't see another way out. She even believed that she was a bad mother and that her baby would be better off without her. It wasn't true, of course, but I do think she really believed that.

It's fair to say that the book is really gripping. It brought out strong emotions in me--anger toward Nicholas, for example, and identification with Paige. I am not sure why I identified with her since my life isn't like hers  but I suppose I can relate to sometimes feeling overwhelmed by life. And the search for one's own identity is pretty much a universal theme.
Post a Comment