Dawn Edelstein knows everything there is to know about dying. She specialises in helping her clients make peace with the end of their lives. But as she’s flying home from her latest case, she is forced to confront her own mortality for the first time.
Instead of seeing her brilliant quantum physicist husband and their beloved daughter flash before her eyes in what she assumes are her last moments, only one face is shockingly clear: Wyatt Armstrong.
Safely on the ground, Dawn now faces a desperate decision. Should she return to Boston, her family and the life she knows, or journey back to an Egyptian archaeological site she left over a decade earlier, reconnect with Wyatt, and finally finish her abandoned magnum opus, The Book of Two Ways?
As the story unfolds, Dawn must confront the questions she’s never truly answered: What does a life well-lived look like? When we depart this earth, what do we leave behind of ourselves? And who would you be if you hadn’t turned out to be the person you are right now?
Another book that delves into human morality and the intricacies of life, Jodi Picoult’s latest novel The Book of Two Ways explores the power of choices, destiny, and the temptation of exploring another path.
When Dawn survives a plane crash, the experience prompts her to flee to Egypt to reconnect with her long lost love, temporarily abandoning her husband and daughter in the process.
The chronology of the book is, at times, incredibly confusing. It moves between Egypt, where Dawn is reconnecting with her ex-boyfriend, and the present, after Dawn has returned home to Boston and is living through a stale and forced marriage with quantum physicist Brian. But, scattered throughout, there are also flashbacks to much further in the past, when Dawn was a graduate student in Egyptology and falling in love, when her mother died unexpectedly and she had to quit her career and her relationship in order to take care of her thirteen-year-old brother Kieran.
Truthfully, there was quite a fair chunk of time where I couldn’t work out whether the Egypt timeline was in the past, or in the present and therefore perhaps the Boston storyline was the past. Perhaps this was deliberate, but it was still quite the confusing read.
“Here’s the insane thing about resuming your old life when it’s nearly ended: it is business as usual. Your heart may be broken, your nerves may be shattered, but the trash needs to be taken out. Groceries must be bought. You have to fill your car with gas. People still depend on you.”
Fans of Jodi Picoult will recognise themes from her earlier works — parenthood, obligation, motherhood, the limits of love, and the complex, multi-layered nature of a relationship. At times, it’s hard to know which man we want Dawn to choose, but this book is so much more than that.
There’s a lot of death in it — a lot. Dawn now works as a death doula, helping people organise the perfect death, and she’s confronted with mortality everyday. Readers can’t help but contemplate their own life choices, and perhaps you’ll be left wondering how your life might’ve been different if you made different decisions. It’s a beast of a theme to tackle in a book, incredibly high-concept, but I think Jodi does it quite well.
“Even without looking, I can feel him staring at me. The air feels heavier. And then, as if someone has broken the glass of a window during an inferno, I can suddenly breathe.”
At its core, The Book of Two Ways explores love and romance. We meet Dawn and Brian after they’ve been together for 15 years, having raised a child. Their relationship is a routine, it’s comfortable, not overly exciting. But we also meet Dawn and Wyatt in the past, when their relationship is budding — it’s a lot more inviting, exciting and emotional. It’s two young adults with a lot more in common falling in love, and then being torn apart when the real world comes calling.
“It is virtually impossible to put a price on a good death. Right now, death doulas are for people who can afford them, because Medicare doesn’t have the good sense to cover our services the way they cover hospice care.”
Admittedly, Dawn isn’t overly relatable and can be a pretty unlikable character at times. No spoilers, but her decisions are…questionable at best. Also, there are quite a lot of info dumps in the book — intense, excessive dialogue about philosophy, or Egyptology, parallel wolds or physics. Perhaps realistic to the conversation happening, but not always necessary to include?
Moving, insightful, and encouraging readers to contemplate their own morality and life choices, The Book of Two Ways, is recommended for fans of literary fiction, women’s fiction, family sagas, and historical fiction. Bonus points if you have an interest in ancient Egypt.
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Book of Two Ways
Allen & Unwin Book Publishers