VANISHING ACTS by Jodi Picoult narrated by Julia Gibson (Delia), Jonathan Davis (Eric), Jim Jenner (Andrew), Robert Ramirez (Fitz) and Sharon Washington (Elise)

I love Jodi Picoult’s punning titles and I loved the way this novel began with the protagonist, Delia, six years old, being part of her father’s magic act: “The first time I disappeared I was six years old,” she says in the memorable opening line.

Delia Hopkins lives in New Hampshire with her widowed father Andrew, daughter Sophie and bloodhound Greta. She performs search-and-rescue operations. Too early on in the novel, the climax arrives, in the shape of a policeman coming to arrest Andrew Hopkins, a well-thought-of, well-liked pillar of the small New Hampshire town in which they live. His crime? Kidnapping Delia when she was 4 years old.

What a pity this climax arrived so early, as it squandered the tension that could have been milked from that event. Of course, this novel would have benefited from being cut up and reorganized, so that the reader doesn’t realize exactly what happened to Delia, or why, until two-thirds of the way through the novel.

As this is a Jodi Picoult novel, it will surprise no-one that it ends up in a courtroom. Some readers have complained about a couple of story threads that were not really necessary to the story, such as the prison interlude (inflicted upon Andrew as he awaits trial) or the Native American episode (when the characters first arrive in Arizona.) However, the prison interlude raises the stakes sky-high for Andrew, who knows he will be murdered if he returns to jail. And IMHO, the Native American episode was the most enjoyable part of the book, as I loved the character of Ruth-Anne, who brought out the best in Delia.

Which brings me to the character of the protagonist, Delia Hopkins.  True to most Jodi Picoult heroines, she is somewhat boyish, free from artifice, plain-spoken, strong-minded, and has an interesting job. She adores her daughter Sophie. She is close to her father, Andrew. So what’s not to like about her?

As the novel wound on, and more characters were introduced I found Delia increasingly annoying, to the point where I just wished she would go away. There is a three-way relationship with Delia (naturally) being courted by two extremely handsome young men (Eric and Fitz), who for the most part behave extremely well. Each of them is obsessed with her. Each vies for her attention. Each has loved Delia for most of their lives, for  20 years, since they were friends together in the local public school.

Although Jodi Picoult paints a convincingly portrait of Delia’s beauty (raven-dark hair, brown eyes, which some cover artists have ruined by showing a girl in blond plaits), I honestly think there has to be something very special about a woman who can hold the attention of TWO men like Eric and Fitz for such an astoundingly long time.

But Delia is both boring and bratty. It becomes increasingly obvious there is very little nuance in the way Delia thinks about things. (At 32, she is still childishly self-absorbed.) She finally meets her mother Elise. That first meeting is “perfect,” matching her childishly high expectations. But after her father defensively drops the bombshell that his ex-wife was an alcoholic, Delia turns nasty. She marches back to her mother’s house and confronts her in the rudest possible way, showing little empathy or compassion for  a woman who has experienced a devastating loss, but has managed to remain sober for 25 years.

Her mother behaves perfectly, but Delia is always bristly and rude. Of course, the author tries to make Delia more likable with her “revelation” that Elise’s boyfriend Victor molested her when she was four years old, a piece of information that manages to save Andrew from prison. But this tidbit just seems too convenient to be true, a useful ploy to rescue likable Andrew from almost certain death.

So when, near the end of the novel, this love-triangle finally shifts, it is hard to be interested. As one reviewer put it, these two men have loved Delia “soggily” since childhood, and I can’t for the life of me think why.  There is nothing about Delia that is elevated or inspiring. She is not kind-hearted. She is not spiritual. She is not especially insightful. She doesn’t display much emotional intelligence. In short, she has little to recommend her except that author Jodi Picoult wants her to be beloved. But wishing doesn’t usually make things so. Three stars. #jodipicoult #vanishingacts