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The Pact by Jodi Picoult
Friends Who Become Lovers
Next Door Neighbors Bond
Melanie and Michael Gold moved to Bainbridge, NH, so Michael could find a more interesting veterinarian clientele in which to practice his skills. When they meet their next door neighbors, (Augusta) Gus and James Harte, they find kindred spirits and become best friends. Soon these two couples bond and are seen everywhere together, the four of them becoming inseparable. Melanie and Gus are even pregnant together, although Gus and James already have one daughter, and this baby is the first and only child Melanie and Michael will have.
The two couples frequent the same Chinese restaurant every weekend for years, and the waiters are not even sure which one is married to whom. When the Golds have Emily, and the Hartes have Chris, the children are closer than a brother and sister. Jodi Picoult has said she wrote The Pact as “the anti-Romeo and Juliet” tale. What happens if the families of two young lovers become too close?
Almost every Jodi Picoult book is excellent, but if you are a parent, you will view your children differently. I loved the book and thought it was exceptionally good.
Can Friends Be Together Too Much?
Both Emily and Chris are excellent students at the tony high school they attend. Both are popular, Chris being a star on the swim team, and Emily a budding artist, who hopes to be accepted for college at the Sorbonne in Paris. They seem mature compare to other teens their age, and Emily’s art teacher comments about how Chris will patiently pose for hours as Emily paints his portrait. Chris and Em have been a couple as long as anyone can remember, and it seems natural to everyone to always see them together.
Their parents are thrilled as they begin to see the kids fall in love, they always dreamed this would happen. Melanie and Michael have reservations the first time they see Emily and Chris making out, as Em is only 16, and Chris a year older. Yet both sets of parents always knew it would be this way, and the kids have their blessings. But everyone’s dreams are shattered one night when both the Golds and Hartes get the 3AM call from the hospital that no parent wants to receive.
Emily Wants to be a Painter
Feeling Betrayed by People You Love
It is hard for the two sets of parents to sort out the facts in the confusion which follows. But apparently there was an accident involving alcohol and a gun. As both frantic Mothers Melanie and Gus pass each other in the ER hallway, Gus says, “Chris has been injured. How’s Em?’ “Em is dead,” a heartbroken and hysterical Melanie replies, and quickly walks away. The Golds are in shock.
James Harte is a physician at this ER, and manages to hold off the police questioning of Chris for a few hours until they can sort through the facts. But since a gun was involved, Chris is alive and Emily is dead, Chris is promptly arrested and taken to jail, much to the shock of his parents. Since Chris was stronger than Emily, it appears that in NH law he would have been arrested as a matter of course in any situation where his girlfriend was killed and he lived.
It is assumed that the young lovers had some kind of suicide pact. The rest of the story is told in flashbacks, as we see the two distraught families try to understand not only how this could have happened. But even worse, did they really know their own children at all? What could have been so terrible that Chris and Emily could not discuss it with their parents?
The Golds are Jewish, so burial arrangements for Emily must be made quickly. Gus goes to Melanie to try to comfort her and help decide what clothes to dress Emily in. At first they both just seem very sad and shocked, and Gus recalls how pretty Em looked in the dress she wore at her Junior prom. Melanie goes ballistic, and throws Gus out of her house, accusing Chris of being a murderer.
This is such an emotional situation, but these people have practically lived at each other’s homes for fifteen years, and for Melanie to react so strongly just hurts Gus even more. Chris is in jail, and also heartbroken by Emily’s death, and for these four parents to completely stop communicating now makes it all seem worse somehow. They are all at a loss for words.
The flashbacks of all the family outings and holiday celebrations show only happy times and the close relationships that were described before. The Golds spend Christmas at the Hartes since they are Jewish, that way they can always be together.
But the reader sees that as Emily and Chris’s relationship becomes sexual, Emily seems uncomfortable and starts to pull away from him a little bit. Chris is puzzled and somewhat hurt by this. He realizes something is really bothering Em, but truly believes he can talk to her and somehow make everything alright.
The fact that both families are ignoring each other is taking a toll on them, as they leaned so hard on each other for so many years. Chris’s parents cannot bear that he is in jail, and meet regularly with his lawyer, Jordan McAfee. Jordan thinks he can get Chris off, but makes no guarantees until he interviews Chris and the Golds for hours. Gus and James can visit Chris in jail, but not very often, and it seems too hard for James to see him there. James has a very stiff upper lip and he holds the family to a very high standard of behavior. Sometimes it seems hard to believe he is married to a free spirit like Gus.
The strain of Emily’s death is tearing Melanie and Michael’s marriage apart. Melanie is furious and blames Chris, yet because of their former closeness, Michael does not find it in his heart to believe Chris would deliberately do anything to harm Emily, and decides to testify in Chris’s behalf. One day while Michael is out, Melanie is looking around in Emily’s room, and finds her diary. She knows she shouldn’t look, but she does. She is thunderstruck when she sees what Emily wrote in it the morning of her death, and quickly burns it in the fireplace without showing it to anyone. This seems a cruel move, because now Melanie understands much more than the others.
A Professional Swimmer
Life Can Never Be the Same
Michael Gold goes to visit Chris regularly, and Melanie is beside herself with anger because of this. One day Gus and Michael run into each other after their separate visitations with Chris, and are so relieved to be able to discuss what is happening in their lives with someone else. Soon they start to meet at the old Chinese place where they used to eat each weekend as a foursome. At a certain point, they are so drawn towards each other, they almost begin an affair. It never comes to that, but Gus thinks she may finally understand that although Emily did love Chris, that she loved him like a brother, not a lover, and found that out when they began having sexual relations.
Chris is keeping to himself in jail, as Jordan has instructed him. His life feels ruined. He never even got to attend Emily’s funeral service. Jordan thinks it is best that Chris does not take the stand in his own defense, so angry does not even come close to describe what Jordan feels toward Chris when he takes it upon his own self to testify. Jordan almost drops Chris as a client. But Chris has a deep need to speak, for Emily was keeping secrets from him, secrets he only learned by the testimony of others in court.
The eloquence of Chris’s words as he describes his love for Emily, and how hard he tried to do anything in his power to save her that terrible night, left this reader speechless. Chris finally makes everyone understand that not everyone gets the chance to be loved as deeply and completely as he loved Emily, and how much he cherished the gift of her love.
This book is incredible and I highly recommend it. Jodi Picoult is a wonderful author, and this reader has enjoyed much of her work. If you have a teenage child or grandchild, you need to read The Pact. You simply cannot afford not to. Jodi Picoult has a unique way of understanding the realities of what it means to be a teen in our time, and has a complete grasp of the extreme amount of pressures that many parents put on their children, while living through them vicariously and not realizing that they are projecting their own hopes and dreams on their children. Your children have their own paths to follow, and may not be the ones that you like. This work is also a strong statement about how family life is getting so frantically busy that parents do not even know their children half as well as they believe they do.
© 2011 Jean Bakula