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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Death and Rebirth

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School shootings, date rape, kidnapping, modern-day witch hunts for alleged sexual predators: These are just a few of the thorny issues Jodi Picoult has dealt with in the numerous novels she’s written to date. And in each of them she offers readers a vantage point from which hasty moral judgments are impossible. In her new book, Change of Heart, she tackles capital punishment, using it as a vehicle to examine religious dogma and the crippling loss of a loved one, as well as the fallacy of sentencing a man to death without fully understanding his crime.

Like many of Picoult’s novels, Change of Heart is set in New Hampshire, one of 37 states in the nation that still practices capital punishment. It tells of a young man convicted of double murder who begins to exhibit messianic traits as he awaits death by lethal injection. Events leading to and during his incarceration are described by four characters, each of whom share a very different relationship with the condemned man and for whom his imminent demise holds a unique significance—for some it’s an enactment of justice, for others a death of hope. Most insistently, the book questions the validity of the death sentence.

“I feel that, like religion, it’s something we tend to go along with without really wanting to explore it further,” Picoult says. “Given that we’re the only first-world country that still has capital punishment on the books, I think it’s at least worth an honest look at whether it is a fair system of justice.”

Picoult comes to Alverno College’s Pitman Theatre, 3401 S. 39th St., on Wednesday, March 12, at 7 p.m. as part of the Schwartz Live series. Tickets can be purchased by calling 382-6044. To read an interview with the author, go to www.expressmilwaukee.com.

This week also offers a chance to channel the energy and revitalization that marks the transition from winter to spring. If you feel poetry gushing through you like bird-song, but can’t quite coax it out onto the page, try Woodland Pattern’s “Transpoetry” workshop presented by Milwaukee-area poets Beth Bretl and Oody Petty. On Saturday, March 8, from 1 to 4 p.m., they help both beginners and experienced writers harness those ripening sensibilities.

To register, call 263-5001.