Jodi Picoult Questions The Quality of Marriage in “Mercy”

July 13, 2011 · 4 comments

I was lucky enough to read Jodi Picoult’s, Mercy, this summer on the beach. It is a terrific beach read. I would read a few chapters, stare at the ocean and think about the truth of  the questions Mercy raises. For starters, is marriage as fragile as it is portrayed? Is marriage really 70/30 in the love department (ie. one of the spouses loves the 70% and the other loves the 30%) like one of the main characters claims? How is Picoult able to capture the complexities of marriage so well? In the deep, dark places of your soul, when you actually have a minute to think about your marriage, is it the kind of marriage that Jamie and Maggie had or is it the kind if marriage that Allie and Cam had?

Here’s a bit of the story. Allie and Cam have been married for a few years. Allie is crazy about Cam and Cam loves Allie, but it’s the kind of love that is comfortable and sadly, he takes her for granted. Gosh, I hate that. Jaime, who happens to be Cam’s cousin, so loves his wife Maggie, that he would deny her absolutely nothing, not even her request for him to euthanize her. After Jaime murders Maggie, he gives himself up to Cam, the local chief of police, hoping to be treated fairly, but fully expecting to be jailed for life. As Allie researches the folks Jaime and Maggie knew in hopes of clearing Jaime and starts to get a clear picture of the marriage Jaime and Maggie had, she can’t help but wonder about her own relationship with Cam.

There are some other marriages revealed in Mercy as well.  Mia, Allie’s new assistant, remembers the love her own parents had  – an all-consuming love that excluded even her, their own child.  Then there was the love as described by Cam’s Mom for his dead father – a love so deep that Ellen spends her days keeping herself open to the possibility of him reconnecting with her someday.   All this reading about marriage had me thinking about marriage in general.  IS it meant to be so all-encompassing as portrayed in the movies or is important for each party to keep their individuality?  In Mercy, Allie loves Cam more and gets hurt.  Jaime loves Maggie more and gets hurt.  The all-encompassing love seemed to be somewhat of a turn-off for Cam.  For Maggie, the all-compassing love of Jaime was a burden, a burden that she ended up taking advantage of by asking him to take her life.  All-encompassing love doesn’t seem so great, does it?

In the back of the book in the book club topics for discussion, question number 4 reads: Jaime says, “You know it’s never fifty-fifty in a marriage.  It’s always seventy-thirty, or sixty-forty.  Someone falls in love first. Someone puts someone else up on a pedestal. Someone works very hard to keep things rolling smoothly, someone else sails along for the ride.” When I finished the book, I leaned over to my husband and asked him to read the question.  After he read it, I asked him if he believed it.  He said, “Nope, marriage is  fifty-fifty.” So says the marriage partner on the pedestal…

PS. I emailed the author, Jodi Picoult and asked her the question I asked in the first paragraph of my post.  Namely, How is she able to write about the intricacies of marriage so well? She replied immediately saying, ” I think I had lots of practical experience with marriage, LOL – although I’ve never cheated on my husband!” –Nice of her to get back to me in an email, don’t you think?

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