cover image The Book of Two Ways

The Book of Two Ways

Jodi Picoult. Ballantine, $28.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-984-81835-5

Picoult (A Spark of Life) explores age-old questions about a possible parallel universe in this shrewd tale. The life of narrator Dawn McDowell, a specialist in the ancient Egyptian coffin text the Book of Two Ways, has taken two paths, indicated by alternating chapter titles. In “Water/Boston,” Dawn is a death doula facing an impasse in her marriage to quantum mechanics professor Brian Edelstein, after he missed his daughter’s birthday to spend time with an adoring student. The “Land/Egypt” path begins with Dawn’s life before Brian, when she was on a PhD track as an Egyptologist, worked at a Yale-sponsored dig, and developed a connection with fellow student Wyatt Armstrong. In the present, Dawn returns to Egypt to see if she can pick up the life with Wyatt she left behind, and the trip is described in two ways that mirror one another with a few key differences. Along the way, Picoult unloads a great deal of info on quantum mechanics, parallel worlds, Egyptian history, religion and hieroglyphics, the machinations of archeological digs, and the process of dying. The dual-life construct can be confusing, and readers may find it not sufficiently explained, but Dawn’s story offers keen insight on the limits of love. Picoult’s fans will appreciate this multifaceted, high-concept work. (Sept.)