Somewhere between belief and doubt lies faith. For the second time in her marriage, Mariah White catches her husband with another woman and Faith, their seven year old daughter, witnesses every painful minute. In the aftermath of a sudden divorce, Mariah struggles with depression and Faith seeks solace in a new friend… a friend who may or may not be imaginary.
Faith talks to her "Guard"constantly; begins to recite passages from the Bible— a book she's never read. Fearful for her daughter's sanity, Mariah sends her to several psychiatrists. Yet when Faith develops stigmata and begins to perform miraculous healings, Mariah wonders if her daughter-- a girl with no religious background-- might indeed be seeing God. As word spreads and controversy heightens, Mariah and Faith are besieged by believers and disbelievers alike, caught in a media circus that threatens what little stability they have left. …more
Picoult offers a perfectly pitched take on the great mysteries of the heart. Her best yet.
Keeping Faith explores a family plagued by the media, the medical profession, and organized religion in a world where everyone has an opinion but no one knows the truth.
Faith talks to her "Guard"constantly; begins to recite passages from the Bible— a book she's never read. Fearful for her daughter's sanity, Mariah sends her to several psychiatrists. Yet when Faith develops stigmata and begins to perform miraculous healings, Mariah wonders if her daughter-- a girl with no religious background-- might indeed be seeing God. As word spreads and controversy heightens, Mariah and Faith are besieged by believers and disbelievers alike, caught in a media circus that threatens what little stability they have left.
What are you willing to believe? Is Faith a prophet or a troubled little girl? Is Mariah a good mother facing an impossible crisis— or a charlatan using her daughter to reclaim the attention her unfaithful husband withheld? As the story builds to a climactic battle for custody, Mariah must discover that spirit is not necessarily something that comes from religion, but from inside oneself.
Fascinating, thoughtful, and suspenseful, Keeping Faith explores a family plagued by the media, the medical profession, and organized religion in a world where everyone has an opinion but no one knows the truth. At her controversial and compelling best, Jodi Picoult masterfully explores the moment when boundaries break down, when illusions become reality, and when the only step left to take is a leap of faith.
One day, when my oldest son was five, we were playing on the driveway. I watched him bike up and down a gradual hill, circling back to me. Those were the days when Kyle was full of questions – where do school buses sleep at night? Do dogs dream? How does a radio work? -- and that afternoon was no different. “Mommy,” Kyle said, coming up to me on his bicycle, “What’s God?”
That was a loaded question. Like many people of my generation, faith was a tricky road for me. I had dozens of friends who had gone to church as children…but now, as adults, didn’t. They wanted their kids to have some sort of religious cornerstone…but felt hypocritical attending for the sake of the kids, when they weren’t sure they wanted to go themselves. For me, the situation was even murkier. I had been raised by a non-practicing Jewish family; I married a WASP who could trace his roots to the Mayflower. We didn’t go to church or temple. We’d decided that when our children started asking questions, we’d tell them both of our answers…in the hopes that one day they could make the decision to believe whatever they wished.
I turned to Kyle and tried to come up with the most secular explanation for God that I could summon. “Well,” I told him. “God lives up in Heaven, and He watches over all of us, to make sure that we’re okay.”
He thought about this for a second. “Kind of like a babysitter?” he asked.
Kyle frowned. “But all of my babysitters,” he said, “are girls.”
It was a curious distinction …but a really intriguing one. In spite of the nurturing aspect that is often attributed to God, there seemed to be very little connection between femininity and divinity. I started to mull over this – and came up with the story of Faith White – a little girl who may or may not be seeing God…but who definitely envisions her special friend as female.
Let me tell you, it’s not an easy thing to write about God. In the first place, I certainly don’t have all the answers. In the second, you are bound to offend someone. I decided that if I was going to go about this religiously, as it were, I was going to have to interview chaplains of all faiths. I met first with an Episcopal priest who recounted being a child, and hearing evangelical ministers come to preach under tents on the plains. Then I sat down with a wonderful elderly priest, who had a curiosity and a sense of humor that I still remember fondly. When I asked him why Catholics were the only ones who saw the Virgin Mary in subway puddles, he grinned and said that’s a terrific question. When I asked about Jews not going to Heaven because they didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah, he told me they were “grandfathered” in because Christianity was grafted onto the tree of Judaism.
My final interview was with a rabbi affiliated with a local college. It was the only time in fifteen years of research that I’ve ever been tossed out of anyone’s office. He looked at me and said, “If you’re going to write this book, you better go to rabbinical school…or you’re going to perpetuate mistruths that have dogged Judaism for 5000 years!” He wound up getting fired a week later by the college…so I think he was just having a bad run of luck. However, I needed to find myself a spokesperson for the Jewish religion – and I had the excellent fortune to meet up with a woman who had grown up Catholic, converted to Judaism, and become a rabbi. She also was a lesbian. Here’s someone who’s got to be open-minded, I thought – and she was. In fact, some of my favorite facts in Keeping Faith came straight from her, as she showed me examples from the Talmud where God has a feminine slant.
When I wrote Keeping Faith, I wanted to look not at religion…but at belief. At how we can be spiritual without being religious. It is awfully hard to talk about religion without drawing a line in the sand…classifying “us” and “them” based on beliefs – but that’s exactly why I thought this book was so important. What if what you believed wasn’t as important as that you believed? What if we were all able to entertain someone else’s point of view about God? I like to believe this world would be a better, safer, more tolerant place.
I still don’t have all the answers about God – I don’t think any of us will, until it’s too late for us to be able to share them. However, I do think that it’s important to bring up the discussion and to remember that it’s just that – a discussion, and not a lecture. To this end, I’m hoping to return to this subject matter for my 2008 book – which will examine, in part, whether Messiahs are born or made.
“Makes you wonder about God. And that is a rare moment, indeed, in modern fiction.”
— USA Today
A featured alternate selection of the Book of the Month Club.
“Fans of Picoult's fluent and absorbing storytelling will welcome her new novel, which like Harvesting The Heart, explores family dynamics and the intricacies of motherhood, and concludes, as did THE PACT, with tense courtroom drama… These characters' many triumphant transformations are Picoult's triumphs as well.”
— Publisher's Weekly
“Addictively readable, raising valid questions about religion without getting maudlin. For a novel, that in itself is a miracle.”
— Entertainment Weekly
Keeping Faith is about a little girl who, in the wake of a family crisis, develops an imaginary friend who turns out to be God. And female. In this chapter, Faith and her mother Mariah realize that their lives are about to change: a cult takes up residence on the front lawn to uphold Faith as the new Messiah; and a Winnebago arrives bearing the infamous Ian Fletcher, an athiest with a television pulpit, who's come to prove that Faith is a hoax. But then she works a miracle…
In the middle of the night, Faith wakes up and curls her hands into fists. They hurt enough to make her whimper; just like the time Betsy Corcoran had dared her to hold onto the flagpole on the coldest day of last winter and her skin had near frozen right to the metal. She rolls over and stuffs her hands beneath her pillow, where the sheets are still cool.
But that doesn’t help, either. She fidgets a little bit more, wondering if she ought to get up and pee now that she’s awake, or just sit here and wait for her hands to stop hurting. She doesn’t want to go into her mother yet. Once she’d gotten up in the middle of the night and her foot had felt like the size of a watermelon and all tingly, but her mother said it was just pins and needles and to go back to bed. Even though there were no pins and needles on the floor, and when Faith had checked, there were none sticking out of the sole of her foot, either.
She rolls over again and sees her guard sitting on the edge of the bed. “My hands hurt,” she whimpers, and lifts them for inspection.
Her guard leans forward to look. “It will only hurt for a little while.”
That makes Faith feel better. It’s like when she’s hot and sick sometimes and her mother gives her the little pills that she knows will make her headache disappear. Faith watches her guard lift her left hand first, and then her right, and put a kiss right in the middle of each palm. Her lips are so warm that Faith jumps at first and pulls her hands back. When she looks down she can see it: her guard’s kiss printed on her skin in a red circle. Thinking it is lipstick, Faith tries to rub at it with her thumb, but it does not come off.
Her guard carefully folds Faith’s fingers shut, making a fist. Faith giggles; she likes the idea of holding fast to a kiss. “See how I love you?” her guard says, and Faith smiles all the way back to sleep.
· · · · · ·
On Thursday Mariah spends the morning watching the video Agnes of God, and so gets a late start food shopping. When she pulls up to the elementary school, ready to pick Faith up for the day, the trunk is full of groceries. The bell rings, and Mariah takes up her usual position, beside a large maple tree at the edge of the first-grade classroom pod, but Faith does not appear. She waits until the last of the children have dribbled out of the school, then walks into the office.
Faith is huddled on the overstuffed purple couch beside the secretary’s desk, crying; her leggings torn at the knees and her hair straggling out of its braid and sticking against her damp cheeks. She’s stretched out her sleeves and hidden her fists inside them. She wipes her nose on the fabric. “Mommy, can I not go to school anymore?”
Mariah feels her heart contract. “You love school,” she says, dropping to her knees, as much to comfort Faith as to block the curious gaze of the school secretary. “What happened?”
“They make fun of me. They say I’m crazy.”
Crazy. Filled with a righteous fury, Mariah slips an arm around her daughter. “Why would they say that?”
Faith hunches her shoulders. “Because they heard me talk to… her.”
Mariah closes her eyes and makes a silent appeal— to whom?— to solve this, and fast. She pulls Faith upright and holds her mittened hand, tugging her out of the main office. “You know what? Maybe you can stay home from school, just for tomorrow. We can do things, you and me, all day.”
Faith turns her face up to her mother’s. “For real?”
Mariah nods. “I used to take special holidays sometimes with Grandma.” Her jaw tightens as she remembers what her mother had called it: a mental health day.
They drive through the winding roads of New Canaan, Faith slowly beginning, in bits and pieces, to relay the school day to Mariah. At the turn to their driveway, Mariah rolls down the window and picks up the mail, marking the number of parked cars lining the road. Hikers, or birdwatchers, probably; taking to the field across the road. They get that up here quite often. She continues to drive and then she sees the crowd that surrounds the house.
There are vans, and cars, and for God’s sake, a big painted Winnebago.
“Wow,” Faith breathes. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” Mariah says tightly. She turns off the ignition and steps from the car into a throng of nearly twenty people. Immediately cameras begin flashing, and questions are hurled at her like javelins. Is your daughter in the car? Is God with her? Do you see God too?
When Faith’s door cracks open, the questions stop. Mariah watches her daughter get out of the car and stand nervously on the slate path that leads up to the house. Lining it are a dozen men and women in caftans, who bow their heads as Faith looks at them. Standing behind, and slightly apart, is a man smoking a thin cigar. The face seems familiar to Mariah; with a start she realizes that she’s seen him on TV— Ian Fletcher himself is leaning against her crabapple tree.
Suddenly Mariah knows exactly what is going on. Somehow, some way, people are beginning to hear about Faith. Feeling sick, she wraps an arm around her daughter’s shoulders and steers her up the porch. She pulls Faith into the house with her and locks the door.
“How come they’re here?” Faith peeks out the sidelight, and is yanked away by her mother before she can be seen.
Mariah rubs her temples. “Go to your room. Do your homework.”
“I don’t have any.” “Then find some!” Mariah snaps. She walks into the kitchen and picks up the phone, tears already thickening her throat. She needs to call the police, but dials a different number first. When her mother answers on the second ring, Mariah lets the first sob out. “Please come,” she says, and she hangs up.
She sits at the kitchen counter, her palms spread on the cool Formica. She counts to ten. She thinks of the milk and the peaches and the broccoli sitting in the trunk of her car, already beginning to rot.
· · · · · ·
Ian Fletcher is very good at doing his job. He is ruthless, he is driven, he is single-minded. So he fixes his eyes on the little girl, this next subject of his, and watches her get out of the car.
But his attention wanders to the woman beside Faith White. The look of fear on her face, her unconscious grace, the instinctive slip of her arm over her daughter all draw Ian’s eye. She is small and fine-boned, with hair the color of old gold. It is pulled back from her face, which is pale and free of makeup and quite possibly the most naturally lovely thing Ian has seen since climbing the falls in South America. She’s not classically beautiful, not perfect, but somehow that only makes her more interesting. Ian shakes his head to clear it. He carouses with models and movie stars… he should not be swayed by a woman with the face of an angel.
An angel? The very thought is traitorous, ludicrous. It is the goddamned Winnebago, he decides. Spending the night on a foam coat, instead of a deluxe hotel mattress, is aggravating his insomnia to the point where he can’t think straight; to the point where anyone with a pair of X chromosomes becomes attractive.
Ian focuses on Faith White, walking beneath her mother’s arm. But then he makes the mistake of glancing up— and meets the gaze of Mariah White. Cool, green, angry— Let the battle begin, Ian thinks, unwilling and unable to look away until she firmly shuts the door.
· · · · · ·
“Name one other thing— other than the existence of God— that we take on blind faith,” Ian challenges, his voice rising like a call to arms over the small group of people gathered to listen. News of Ian’s presence has by now attracted a number of onlookers, in addition to several members of the press. “There’s nothing! Not a single thing. Not even the sun rising every day. I know it’s going to be there, but that’s something I can prove scientifically.”
He leans against the railing of a wooden platform hastily erected beside the Winnebago for media moments like these. “Can I prove God is there? No.”
He watches people from the corner of his eye, whispering to each other, maybe even second-guessing what made them come to see this miraculous Faith White in the first place. “You know what faith is, what religion is?” He looks pointedly at the scarlet-suited members of the Order of the Great Passion, gathered close with scowls on their faces. “It’s a cult. Who gives us religion? Our parents brainwash us when we’re four or five, and most receptive to fantastical ideas. We’re told we have to believe in God, so we do.”
Ian raises a hand in the direction of the White farmhouse. “And now, the word of a little girl whom— I might add— is just at the right age to believe in fairies and goblins and the Easter Bunny, as well— is enough to convince you?” He levels the crowd with a calculated gaze. “I ask all y’all again, what else do we believe in with blind faith?”
At the profound silence, Ian grins. “Well, let me help you out. The last thing you believed in with absolute, unshakeable conviction was… Santa Claus.” He raises his brows. “No matter how impossible it seemed, no matter how much evidence to the contrary, when you were a child you wanted to believe, and so you did. And as rude as the comparison sounds, it’s not all that different from believing in the existence of God. They both grant a boon based on whether you’ve been naughty or nice. They both go about their work without being seen. They rely heavily on the assistance of mythical creatures— elves in one case, angels in the other.”
Ian lets his eyes touch on one of the cult members, one local reporter, one mother clutching an infant. “So how come y’all don’t believe in Santa, nowadays? Well, because you grew up, and you realized how impossible the whole thing was. Santa Claus went from being a fact to being a real good story, one to pass onto your children. The same way your parents told you about God, when you were a kid.” He hesitates for a moment, letting the silence thicken. “Can’t you see that God’s a myth, too?”
· · · · · ·
Millie Epstein slams her car door violently. Mariah’s beautiful old farmhouse is flocked by lunatics, from what she can see. At least twenty people are milling on the long driveway, some even bold enough to trample the grass edging the front porch. These include a handful wearing bizarre red nightgowns; a few curious locals; and two vans with television call letters spangled across their sides, complete with reporters. Millie shoves them all out of her way until she reaches the porch, where she finds the chief of police. “Thomas,” she says. “What kind of circus is this?”
The police chief shrugs. “Just got here myself, Mrs. Epstein. From what I can tell, based on the reporters over there, there’s one group saying that your granddaughter is Jesus or something. Then there’s another guy who’s saying that not only is Faith not Jesus, but that Jesus doesn’t exist.”
“Can’t we get them off Mariah’s lawn?”
“I was just about to do that myself,” he admits. “‘Course, I can only keep ‘em as far back as the road. It’s a public venue.”
Millie surveys the group. “Can we talk to Faith?” a reporter shouts. “Bring her out!”
“Bring out the mother, too!”
The voices crescendo, and, horrified, all Millie can do is listen. Then she crosses her arms over her chest and stares out at the crowd. “This is private property; you don’t belong here. And you’re talking about a child. A child. Would you really take the word of a seven-year-old?”
From the front of the crowd comes the sound of someone clapping, slowly, deliberately. “My congratulations, ma’am,” Ian Fletcher drawls. “A rational statement, right in the middle of a maelstrom. Imagine that.”
He comes into Millie’s line of vision, continuing to walk forward until she can see that it is Ian Fletcher, the one from the TV show, and that as handsome as he is and as mellifluous his voice, she knows that she’s made a horrible error in judgment to have ever found him attractive. Millie’s tossed the crowd a crumb of doubt, just so that they’ll have something to feed on other than her granddaughter. But this man… this man scatters doubt in order to have them all eating out of the palm of his hand.
“I suggest you leave,” Millie says tightly. “My granddaughter is of no interest to you.”
Ian Fletcher flashes a smile. “Is that a fact? So, you don’t believe your own granddaughter? I guess you know that a child who says she’s talking to God is just that… a child who says she’s talking to God. No bells, no whistles, not even any miracles. Just a group of fawning cult members who are already three shades shy of reputability. But that’s certainly not enough to create a frenzy over, is it, now?”
His words are honeyed; they run over Millie and root her to the porch. “Ma’am, you’re a woman after my own heart.”
Millie narrows her eyes and opens her mouth; and then, clutching her chest, falls to the ground at Ian’s feet.
· · · · · ·
Mariah throws open the front door and kneels over her mother. “Ma,” she cries, shaking Millie’s slack shoulders. “Call an ambulance!”
There are a few scattered camera flashes. Ignoring them, Mariah bends over Millie, leaning her ear close to her mother’s mouth. But she feels no breath; no telltale stir of her hair It’s her heart, it’s her heart, she knows it. She squeezes her mother’s hand, certain that if she lets go just the tiniest bit, she will lose her.
Moments later the ambulance roars up the driveway, spraying gravel, getting as close as it can given the melange of vans and news trucks and the Winnebago. The paramedics race up the porch stairs. One gently pulls Mariah out of the way and the other begins to do CPR.
“Oh, God,” Mariah whispers, her voice tiny. “Oh, God; God; oh, my God.”
Oh, guard. Guard. Oh, my guard. From the hiding spot where she has been huddled since sneaking out of the house, Faith’s head swings up. And her summons sounds so much like her mother’s that for the first time, she realizes all along what she’s been saying.
· · · · · ·
Ian watches Mariah White tearfully argue with the paramedics, who refuse to let Faith ride along in the ambulance. The chief of police intercedes, promising to bring her daughter down to the hospital as soon as backup arrives to get everyone off her property. With his hands in his pockets, he watches the ambulance roar out the driveway.
Ian startles at the voice and finds his executive producer holding out a set of car keys. “Here you go. You’ll get network coverage tonight, for sure.”
For badgering an old woman into cardiac arrest. “Well, now,” Ian says. “Can’t ask for much more’n that.”
“So what are you waiting for?”
Ian clutches the keys. “Right,” he says, falling quickly into James expectations and looking around for the producer’s BMW. He doesn’t even bother calling for a cameraman, knowing they’ll never be allowed to step foot in the hospital. “Don’t y’all go drag racing my Winnebago,” he shouts, then speeds off.
In the ER waiting room he watches the fuzzy-reception TV, tuned to kiddie cartoons. There is no sign of Mariah White. Faith arrives ten minutes later in the company of a young policman. They sit a few rows away, and every now and then she turns in her seat to stare at Ian.
It’s downright disconcerting. Ian hasn’t got much of a conscience, so his work rarely puts him in a contemplative state of mind. After all, the people he usually upsets the most are the goddamned Southern Baptists, of which he was once one and who, in Ian’s mind, are so busy swallowing their daily doses of Jesus that they need to come up choking on their self-righteousness from time to time. Once, a woman fainted clear away in the middle of his Central Park speeches, but that isn’t at all the same thing. Faith White’s grandma— Ian doesn’t even know her name— well, what happened happened partly because of something he’d said, something he’d done.
It’s a story, he tells himself. She’s no one you know, and it’s your story.
The policeman’s beeper goes off. He checks it, then turns to Faith and asks her to stay put. On his way to a bank of phones, the cop stops at the triage nurse’s desk and speaks quietly, no doubt asking the woman to watch the kid for a minute.
When Faith turns to stare at him again, Ian closes his eyes. Then he hears her small, thin voice. “Mister?”
She is suddenly sitting beside him. “Hello,” he says, after a moment.
“Is my grandma dead?”
“I don’t know,” Ian admits. She doesn’t respond, and— curious— he glances down at her. Faith huddles against the armrest of the chair, brooding. Looking at her, he doesn’t see someone touched by God. He sees a scared little girl.
“So,” he says, uncomfortably trying to ease her mind. “I bet you like the Spice Girls. I met the Spice Girls,” he confides.
Faith blinks at him. “Are you the reason that my grandma fell down?”
Ian feels his stomach clench. “I think I am, Faith. And I’m very sorry.”
She turns away. “I don’t like you.”
“You’re in good company.” He waits for her to move, or for the policeman to claim her, but before this can happen Mariah White walks out of the ER, red-eyed and searching. Her eyes find Faith, and the girl jumps out of her seat and into her mother’s embrace. Mariah stares coldly at Ian. “The policeman… he was… “ Ian stumbles over the words, gesturing down the hall.
“You get away from my daughter,” she says stiffly. With her arm around Faith, she disappears back through the swinging doors of the ER.
Ian watches them go, and then approaches the triage nurse. “I assume Mrs. Epstein didn’t make it.”
The nurse doesn’t glance up from her paperwork. “You assume right.”
· · · · · ·
The thing about tragedy is that it hits suddenly, with all the power and fury of a hurricane. Mariah holds Faith’s hand tightly as they stand beside her own mother’s body. The ER cubical is empty of medical personnel now; and a kind nurse has removed the tubes and needles in Millie’s body for the family’s private goodbye. It is Mariah’s decision to let Faith in. She doesn’t want to do it, but she knows it is the only way Faith will believe her when she says that her grandmother is dead.
“Do you know,” Mariah says, her voice thick, “what it means if Grandma’s dead?”
Before Faith can answer, Mariah begins to cry. She sits down on a chair beside Millie’s body, her face in her hands. At first she does not pay attention to the screeching sound on the other side of the gurney. By the time she looks up Faith has managed to drag the other folding chair over. She stands on the seat, her cheek pressed to Millie’s chest, her arms awkwardly wrapped around her grandmother’s body.
For a moment Mariah feels the hair on the back of her neck stand up, and touches her palm to it. But her gaze never wavers from Faith— not when Faith lifts herself up on her elbows; not when Faith places her hands on either side of Millie’s face and kisses her full on the mouth; not when Millie’s arms rise stiff and slow and cling to her granddaughter for dear life.