An Egyptologist-turned–hospice worker contemplates the mysteries of fate, mortality, and love.
Picoult’s obsession here is the power of choices and what can happen when they are made under pressure. Dawn, a graduate student in Egyptology, is abruptly called back to Boston from a dig in Egypt by a family emergency. Her mother, who raised her and her brother, Kieran, alone, is in hospice, dying. This death and other circumstances conspire to derail Dawn’s cherished career—now she must raise Kieran, who is only 13. Security is offered by Brian, a physicist at Harvard, whom she marries after discovering she’s pregnant. For 15 years, she curates a different life than the one she had planned. She’s now a “death doula,” a concierge hospice worker contracted by the moribund to help wind up loose ends. For Dawn’s client Win, winding up involves getting in touch with a lost love, abandoned for another life. Win’s situation evokes in Dawn renewed longing for her own lost love, Wyatt, an English earl she left behind at the dig. When fault lines emerge in her marriage and teenage daughter Meret is being extra surly, might-have-beens beckon. The nonlinear narrative ricochets between Dawn’s Boston life and her sojourns—past and present—in Egypt. The chronology can be confusing—and, in the case of the prologue, deliberately misleading, it seems. There are no datelines or other guideposts except for periodic headings like “Water/Boston” and “Land/Egypt.” Water and Land reference the “Two Ways,” alternate routes to the afterlife in Egyptian mythology. Whether on death and dying, archaeology, or quantum physics, Picoult’s erudition overload far exceeds the interests of verisimilitude or theme. Do lectures on multiverses bring us any closer to parsing Dawn’s epiphanous epigram—“We don’t make decisions. Our decisions make us”? This much is clear: The characters’ professions are far better defined than their motivations.
A midlife crisis story stifled by enough material for several TED talks.
Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020