The Reality Derived From Fairy Tales
A Review of Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer
“ Did you really think that a story exists only when you’re reading it? When you go to sleep at night do you [too] cease existing? (36)
Whenever readers pick up “Between the Lines” the characters in the fairy tale put on a show by acting out the script that has been written for them by the author. When the book is closed however, they drop their act and try to appreciate living their own lives until the next reader picks up the book and they have to perform the story all over again. Oliver, the hero, is tired of having to repeatedly go on a quest to save the love of his life who he, outside the script, believes is a total Bimbo. He desperately wants control over his own life. Delilah, a fifteen year old girl, who is ostracized socially at school, finds herself constantly dreaming about her prince charming. The stress of improving her social standing and making her single mother proud of her lead her to escape into the fictional world that the fairy tale provides. One day, after her millionth time reading the story she notices something new on the page, the words “helped me” carved out by the hero of the fairy tale. After overcoming the shock triggered by her disbelief that Oliver is talking to her, she initiates her quest to release him from the constraints of the book and the tale of the star crossed lovers begins.
The style of the novel is unique in that it offers a frame narrative, a story within a story, which is a mode of storytelling that was made famous through Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The book immerses the reader into a world where fiction is reality and the barrier between the book and the reader becomes permeable. The story alternates between three different storylines; there’s the direct storyline from the fairy tale with an omniscient narrator and there’s the focalization of both Delilah and Oliver told from the first person point of view. By alternating the focalization, Picoult and Van Leer paint a more complete picture of the action for the audience while allowing us to peer into the direct thoughts of the characters. This method is crucial in the bridging of Oliver’s fictional fairytale world and Delilah’s nonfictional world.
Picoult and her daughter Van Leer, create a reversal in hegemonic gender roles through their characters. They create a storyline in which the prince is the one that needs saving instead of the archetypical damsel in distress; this makes the man look helpless and gives agency to the woman. The men in the novel are also cast as being the ones more likely to swoon over their loved ones. At one point Oliver says “I can live without leaving this fairy tale but I can’t live without her.”(216) The prince is willing to give up his life to be with a girl that he has never met. The women in the story with the exception of the protagonists are all cast as feminists. Delilah’s mother, works all day so that she provide for her daughter and does not have to depend on a man. The mermaids in the fairytale world all encourage Delilah to leave Oliver because she does not need him to be happy. Delilah herself however is cast as being very selfish, she focuses on comforting herself by attempting to bring her prince charming into her world at the expense of worrying her mother and ignoring her best friend. I was disappointed in that there was really no significant character growth in any of the characters by the end of the novel. It’s interesting to note that after the book is shut within the fairy tale world, the characters break out of their character genres; the prince needs saving, the bad guy is benevolent offering help to his fellow actors, the trolls are joyous and the love-hungry mermaids are hard core feminists.
Delilah immerses herself in the fairy tale to escape the reality of her lonely life, while Oliver calls out for help in the hopes of escaping his monotonous scripted life. This theme of escapism arises from the universal need of attaining happiness. The reason for this need to escape is hinted in the novel as being instigated by unrealistic expectations presented by the cultures hegemonic presentations of love. The book particularly blames Disney’s whitewashed versions of fairytales where the Little Mermaid doesn’t commit suicide and Cinderella’s stepsisters don’t hack off chunks of flesh from their feet to fit into the glass slipper. By withholding these facts, Disney paints love as always having a happily ever after and causes girls like Delilah, to become disappointed at how incongruent these expectations are with the real world. In the novel we learn that Delilah was escaping the real world to find comfort in the world of her fairy tales only to learn that her fairy tale characters were also trying to escape their world. Through this Irony the novel tries to teach that life will never be perfect, not even in fairy tales so one must embrace the good things in their lives and make the best out of the hand that they are dealt with in life.
Picoult and Van Leer suggest this universal idea of escapism through books by using the title to create a parallel between the fairytale that Delilah reads and the story that we are reading. I believe they did this with the purpose of demonstrating how relatively easy it is to lose ourselves in a good book and the accompanying ideas presented with it. This parallel includes the reader as part of this escapist phenomena and allows us to sympathize more with Delilah.
Though the book is targeted at younger readers, it can easily appeal to everyone because in addition to being a fairytale-esque novel it encompasses topics such as gender role reversal, the subconscious effects of culture, and feminism ideology. As a fan of Jodi Picoult’s other novels I was excited that her first co-written YA novel still embodied her captivating writing style (minus all the court logistics).