two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
16-May-June-2005
By: 
Jodi Picoult
user_rating: 
0

A-VanishingActsSingle mother Delia Hopkins, a search-and-rescue worker in New Hampshire, doesn’t have a perfect life, but things are taking a turn for the better. Her young daughter’s father, Eric, has gotten his drinking under control, and the couple finally has wedding plans after years of emotional struggle. But Delia’s world gets turned upside down when police come knocking at the door to arrest her beloved father—for the crime of kidnapping Delia herself some 28 years before. At a time when it seems that no one, including herself, is who she thought, Delia strives to define her identity and shape her family’s future.
Atria. 448 pages. $25. ISBN: 0743454545

Orlando Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Each [alternating] view helps the reader form a complete picture from which to form an opinion on the issue. The hard part is determining where to stand because Picoult is a master at convincing readers that there are shades of gray between what is right and wrong." Kris Hey

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"Vanishing Acts is richly textured and engaging, and there are a few twists and turns that keep the plot from being too predictable. But ultimately, Vanishing Acts is about the elusive nature of memory." Karen Campbell

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"[W]e should convict Picoult … of the writerly misdemeanor of emptying her notebooks and move on to the strengths of Vanishing Acts: the graceful prose, the flawed but endearing characters, the crackling courtroom scenes. Picoult makes us ponder the ambiguous relationships between love and lying, legality and morality; the strange ways repressed memories leak into the present." Michael Harris

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Unfortunately, [Picoult’s] examination of such a charged topic is bogged down by contrived coincidences, weighty subplots and the distracting gimmick of using a different font for each character narrating the story." Ana Caban

New York Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Vanishing Acts is too busy to be tightly focused. And its main event, delivery of the bombshell about Delia’s past, arrives so early in the story that it renders the rest anticlimactic."
Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

What better title than Vanishing Acts to describe a search-and-rescue worker who turns out to be a missing person herself, as well as the daughter of an amateur magician who makes people disappear? Reviewers praise Picoult (My Sister’s Keeper 3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2004) for her cleverness and her abilities as a storyteller, but her tendency to hang her narratives on Issues-with-a-capital-I has limited appeal. Her 12th novel seems particularly overcrowded with themes and subplots addressing the nature of identity, parental and platonic love, Native American mysticism, prison conditions, alcoholism, memory, and much more. The story is told in first-person narratives presented in alternating chapters by the book’s five main characters, but this contrivance quickly wears thin. All in all, Vanishing Acts is a somewhat muddled effort from the best-selling author.