Finally! I read my first Jodi Picoult book – Salem Falls! I am so happy about that! I am sorry to say, however, that the reading experience was not as great as I would have liked it to be.
Salem Falls is a small town in New Hampshire, USA. A handsome, young stranger once arrives at Salem Falls and decides to make it his home. It is later revealed that the stranger is Jack St.Bride, a former teacher from the small town of Loyal, who has had to be the victim of circumstances. A teacher of history and baseball coach at the Loyal school Westonbrook, many of the girl students have a crush on him. Catherine Marsh, one of these students, develops one-sided feelings for him, with the result that Jack St. Bride is accused of having sexual relations with a minor girl. Jack is unable to prove his innocence, and is put behind bars for a whole eight months. Once out of prison, he is clueless about where to go next, what to do next, and how to pick up the pieces of his broken life. Salem Falls appeals to him, and he decides to begin life afresh in this small town.
Jack starts working at the Do-or-Diner, a restaurant run by Addie Peabody, who is believed to be crazy by most of the town folk. Addie hires Jack as a dish washer-cum-kitchen helper without checking his records, much to his convenience. Soon enough, a beautiful relationship of hope, love, and trust begins to blossom between Addie and Jack. However, it looks like a happy-ever-after is not to be.
Word soon leaks out that Jack is a former rape convict, and the townspeople begin to look at each move of his with suspicion. When Gillian Duncan, a teenager from Salem Falls, accuses Jack of raping her one night, all hell breaks loose. Jack is again held in prison, and a trial begins against him.There is all the more pressure on Jack because Gillian is the daughter of Amos Duncan, the owner of the biggest pharmaceutical company in Salem Falls and the richest inmate of the town.
Will Addie stand by Jack during this trying period? Has Jack really become a rapist? Has he raped Gillian? These questions are answered as the story progresses.
Salem Falls is a gripping book all right. It had me on tenterhooks as I read page after page, and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened in the end. It is FULL of drama, and there is a twist in almost every paragraph. There is enough drama to make a Bollywood movie out of the book. (I understand there is already an English movie based on the book.) The book moves fast, and at no point does it get dull or boring, and that is saying something, considering that it is about 430-odd pages or so. I had to stop at places and take a breath, and at the end of the book, I felt like I had returned from a running race – it is so chock-full of events and places.
Picoult has depicted her characters beautifully. The nuances of each character are beautifully drawn out, and the reader feels like he has actually met them in real life. The small-town atmosphere of Loyal and Salem Falls has also been wonderfully painted.
The story also deals with the subject of witchcraft in detail (Gillian and her friends are practicing witches). It was a new subject for me, having never read stories about witchcraft before, and I was fascinated by it. It did sound a little weird, though, reading about the experiments that Gillian and her friends carried out.
Salem Falls is full of moral questions – Is a convict innocent until proven guilty, or guilty until proven innocent? Is it really possible for a person who has been labelled a ‘rapist’ once to start his life afresh? Is it good or bad that the legal system only considers evidence, and does not account for the feelings of a person? Is there anything like ‘good witchcraft’ and ‘bad witchcraft’?
What I did not like about Salem Falls was that the story becomes too unbelievable at some places. I would not like to spoil your experience of reading the book by mentioning them here, but I found certain parts way too unrealistic to believe would happen in real life. The same goes for the ending. The ending is a big shock all right; I had to read it a couple of times over to make sure whether what I was understanding was the same as what the author had intended. However, I found it way too twisted to believe. Of course, it could be just me thinking that way!
All in all, I would say I liked the book, but not as much as I had hoped to. This is definitely not going to be my last Jodi Picoult book. I would definitely like to read more books by the author, if only for the moral questions that she raises.
Have you read this book? What were your feelings about it?