Content Note: abortion, anti-abortion terrorism
A hostage situation at the last reproductive health clinic in Mississipi that performs abortions is coming to an end. People have died and the situation is tense, as one can imagine. For hostage negotiator Hugh McElroy they are even more tense than usual – because he realized that his own daughter, Wren, is one of the patients held captive. And his sister Bex, who accompanied her, was already brought to the hospital with a potentially deadly gunshot wound. As Hugh desperately tries to find a connection with hostage taker George, and as the hostages inside – all in the clinic for different reasons, as patients and workers and even as spies for the anti-abortion camp – try to get through the terror, things start to move very quickly.
A Spark of Light is a really good read. A layered look at the complexities around the topic of abortion that gives everyone a say, but still remains firmly in the pro-choice camp. And it chose an interesting structure to tell its story.
Picoult chose to tell her story backwards (except for one little part at the end) in one-hour chunks, starting with the last hour of the hostage situation until the morning before it all happens. It’s an interesting idea that is difficult to pull off, especially with this thriller setting. But since the story is more interested in exploring its characters and abortion as a political issue, it works very well. It even tries to surprise us at the end, twice, and in my case, it pulled off one of the two surprises.
The cast of characters is big and varied, shedding light on various aspects of the topic, giving us, on the one hand, a very clear and well-researched idea of the situation in Mississippi (that is not so different from other states in the USA, and things are only turning more dire at the moment), but also how abortion intersects not just with feminist issues, but also with religion, race, poverty, education. It is a very comprehensive and astute observation of how abortion is made difficult for pregnant people, and what far-reaching consequences difficult-to-get abortions have for people.
It does treat its anti-abortion characters with sympathy, but it never leaves a firmly pro-choice stance. At the same time, I felt that it does choose an easier way out a couple of times. For example and without taking too much away, I hope, Wren is not there for an abortion herself. Still, the message is clear here: you can’t outlaw abortion, or make access to it difficult, without major costs to many people in many ways. And it makes the resulting violence very clear.
It does so in a well-written, fast-paced novel with interesting characters that is quite a page-turner even apart from the political issues it dissects so finely. I really liked reading it.
Summarizing: good and interesting.