29th Discussion: Jodi Picoult’s Sing You Home

Timmy moderated the discussion. Kai and Sodev lent their moral support. Mel liked the book because of the realism of the arguments on religion and because of Zoe who downplays the importance of sexuality and talks of love instead (the strategy of Pink Dot, and this strategy is homophobic to Aaron but he forgot to bring it up) although Mel, like Alex and Joshua, thought the ending is abrupt. Javin and Alexius disliked the book based on its tedium and Javin further claimed that there is no depth in the characters, the event are superficial and there is no new material. Teri defended it, saying that the stereotypical characters are making a point but this note-taker forgot to jot down the point. Ernest provided a new perspective that this novel is about stopping to love ideas, and starting to love people. Joshua and Teri enjoyed the realistic portrayal w.r.t. the interconnecting, current themes although Joshua also found the style boring and unquotable, unmemorable and he doesn’t understand Zoe well. Both Alex-es brought up how phallic-looking the guitar is in the cover of the book. Anand commented it may be the stereotype of lesbians and Aaron reminded us many people like music and playing guitar. Aaron thought Picoult is really good at the psychologies of people and the book has good intentions but there are some homophobic elements that Picoult couldn’t resolve.

Themes:

1. Suffering: Alex was infuriated that Zoe has to suffer so much to come to a realization that she is a lesbian. It is as if, Alex claimed, Picoult wants to make Zoe suffer excruciatingly so that the (straight?) reader can sympathize with Zoe, to bring the reader to Zoe’s side, so that when Zoe becomes lesbian, the reader would very much prefer her to be alive as a lesbian to her death. This is homophobic. Anand claimed that the suffering could be a form of Bildungsroman trope, a journey of growth. Ernest countered Alex by saying that Max suffers too and finds religion and love at the end. However, Aaron said, Max’s suffering is almost negligible compared to Zoe’s life-and-death perilousness.

2. Religion: Mel believed that the portrayal of religion is realistic in that zealots are passionate, loving but also narrow-minded. Teri claimed that Liddy and Max form a union because they find in each other a god. Aaron thought the issue of homosexuality VS religion is balanced in portraying good Christians such as Max and Liddy. But when Liddy hugs Zoe outside the courtroom, in front of the cameras, saying “God still loves you,” Aaron felt like slapping Liddy. What do you do to a person with good intentions but is misguided (kinda mirroring the novel?)? Joshua however pointed that Lucy is an example of the oppressive force of the Church and how the power can ruin lives. Teri suggested that the novel is implying that God does love us all but Pastor Clive’s homophobic interpretation has nothing to do with God’s Will.

3. Sexuality:

(a) Wenjun saw Zoe’s sexuality as fluid, which may very well be the moral of the novel.

(b) Mel argued convincingly that the book works very hard to make the reader believe that homosexuality is innate (nature), rather than nurtured. She brought up the example that in the courtroom, both sides of the lawyers try hard to establish the nature VS nurture argument to each side’s advantage but whether the embryo-child grows up to be gay or not shouldn’t matter in a truly democratic society. Raj pointed that the nature VS nurture argument is important in the lawsuit because the judge is religious. Aaron continued Melissa’s thesis that the book badgers the reader that homosexuality is innate, not nurtured, which makes the book homophobic in a way. The book is analogous to Angela (the lawyer) trying so hard to prove in court that homosexuality is inherent (coincidentally, Angela is a stand-in for Jodi Picoult herself as they are straight, have similar number of children, are parttime housewives, share similar features and fight for gay rights). Why is the book so defensive, so insecure if there isn’t a nagging feeling that the  about homosexuality=nature argument would be s the end-all of moral issues of homosexuality?

(c) Anand claimed that points (a) sexuality is fluid and (b) sexuality=nature are contradictory. Alex and Joshua disagreed with Anand that the two points are conflicted. Alex argued that nature itself is fluid and if nature is fluid, it follows that sexuality is fluid. Joshua stated that contradictions are part of reality and we should embrace contradictions and view sexuality as a discovery, not a given.

(d) Butch-Femme: Mel noted that the relationship between Zoe and Vanessa is unconventional in that they have no labels but Aaron disagreed because Vanessa has short hair and wears a suit to the wedding while Zoe wears a gown. The replica of such heteronormative relationship adds to Aaron’s overarching argument that the novel has homophobic elements. This stereotype of gay people is continued in the campy gay wedding planner. Anand and the rest objected that the stereotypes make the book realistic. Joshua claimed that the stereotypes are a narrative strategy to hook and bait the straight readers, to lure them and then surprise and convince them. Aaron agreed with Joshua but it doesn’t make the novel less homophobic. There has to be a better way to put across the message.

Ernest reminded us that while the homo relationships are stereotypical, so are the hetero such Liddy-Reid. Aaron said that Liddy-Reid is not stereotypical in the sense that the oppressed Liddy breaks free of the stereotypical relationship.

4. Love: Aaron observed that Max shares similar traits with Zoe’s father: they are both associated with mowing lawns; they are both strong physically; Zoe’s father gives her her first “baby” (a doll that Zoe imagines, even as an adult, to be her baby) while Max, at the beginning of the novel, does give Zoe a baby; Zoe’s dad is physically died while the first time, Zoe meets Max, Max is physically hurt. Timmy said that such a love cannot work out and Zoe’s love with Vanessa is more equal, like a partnership.

Characters:

1. Liddy: Alex pointed out that in every novel we have done so far, there is always a pure woman who degenerates into depravity. Teri asked, “Is there really such a person? That her idea of being badass is to eat buttered popcorn?” Alex defended Liddy that she is redeemed by her adultery. Timmy asked in pun, why does Liddy change her tune so quickly from a goody-two-shoes to an adulteress? Mel answered that Liddy has enough of oppression.

2. Reid: Aaron sympathized with Reid who has done nothing wrong but be supportive and yet he loses his wife and embryos to his brother–an immense fraternal and spousal betrayal. Ernest brought up an excellent point that Reid’s major flaw is that he uses money to control people and gain power, which is Picoult’s pointed critique of capitalism.

3. Lucy: We, especially Mel and Alex, wondered what happens to Lucy.

4. Zoe: Joshua questioned why Zoe is so bent on being a biological mother. We didn’t have a good answer. Timmy asked is Zoe a cliche? Mel said no.

5. Max: is hot, according to Wen Jun and Alex. Alex also observed that Max is always lurching for support on someone, Zoe, religion, Liddy. Not at all independent. Ernest countered that while that is true, Max also offers his support to others. Mel disliked Max because she believed that Max is jealous of Zoe’s happiness and wants her to suffer. Aaron cannot agree with that because, as we had established, Max is the spineless sort who needs others for support and because of that, he is slow in coming up with his own mind. His hesitation at giving Zoe the embryos at first is not an indication of his meanness, but his torpidity.

6. Vanessa: Teri and Alexius found Vanessa hot and oooh so manly, knocking down doors to save the damsel like a fireman. Aaron, however, brought up his last point on why the book is homophobic: the entire emotional characterization of Vanessa is her jealousy and insecurity, which seems to be another stereotype of lesbians. Mel admitted that Vanessa’s jealousy is representative of lesbians but Mel wasn’t so sure if it is homophobia.

Literary Devices

1. Ending: Joshua asked why do Vanessa and Zoe’s mom ask Zoe to throw in the towel towards the end of the lawsuit? Ernest answered pragmatically, because if she were to continue, she might jeopardize her job and the embryos and if she stopped, she could at least keep one. Javin found this ending unsatisfactory as it comes as an anti-climax.

2. Boringness: Many of us expressed that the book is boring. Teri asked, “Is the book boring because of the book’s message?” Raj cited the tragic events happening to Zoe over and over again are tiring, hence boring. Javin found the novel annoying. Alex was infuriated at the tragedies. Aaron made an argument that the style of boringness is Picoult making a point, that gay “lifestyle” is boring too, is as boring as “normal” everyday life. Ernest likened the “straight” introductory parts of the novel as boring foreplay.

3. Music: Alex found the motif of music interesting but unfortunately isn’t carried out through the book.

At the end of the discussion, nobody convinced anybody of their point of view and we left with the same opinions that we came with. Joshua’s final response to the novel is that different readers have different responses to the same thing because we bring our personalities, cultures, etc into the reading of a novel. Aaron disagreed because literary critics do reach an agreement about issues because one manages to convince the others; literary critics can have slight contention over a minor point but by and large, they would agree on the larger picture. We need to find evidence from the novel to support our point of view.

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Filed under Disability, Family, Jodi Picoult, Lesbian, Love, Politics, Religion, USA

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