Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Law, Literature, & Legacy: The Genius of John Grisham
The Litigators by John Grisham was enjoyable and worth reading. The extent of my Grisham experience is this and A Time to Kill (the Samuel Jackson version--not the book), so I must say I’m rating him on reputation, but I wouldn’t mind reading more of his work. I appreciate that this book didn’t read like a movie script. It read like a novel. I don’t read much fast pace, pop fiction, but I, sometimes, come across books that are almost written so that they can easily be converted to a screenplay. I don’t get that impression w/ this book. I don’t think this would make a good movie, but it makes for a good novel.
Bob posted a quote from a lecture given at the Southampton Institute of Technology titled “John Grisham: The Hidden Shakespeare.” It essentially points out why Grisham is (but shouldn’t be) underrated: “John Grisham's genius and talent are completely undervalued by those who consider themselves "literary." His ability to deftly weave the law in with universal human experience is one of the reasons that we keep reading him. I believe that by a close reading of one his books, we can come to a better understanding, not only of the world in which we live, but a deeper understanding of ourselves.” I agree. Grisham weaves well together law and human nature. Also, I like how every character has meaning. Everybody we encountered advanced the plot. Although a novel has much more room for the unnecessary, I felt that Grisham was economical w/ his characters & his information. Everyone introduced either moved the plot or revealed a character. I don’t know how this fit in w/ the genre or what it teaches us, but I enjoyed the skill Grisham uses to present his story.
One instance of him doing this was how he described lawyers not as lawyers but as people who became & worked as lawyers. For ex., the beautiful, talented, and vicious Nadine Karros was well described but not simply for the sake of providing a foil for our protagonists. Grisham presents a psychological kernel when discussing Finley & Figg’s jury selection strategy: “It was Helen’s theory that the women would have mixed and complicated feelings about Nadine [...] and most important, there would be pride that a woman was not only in charge but, as they would soon realize, also the best lawyer in the courtroom. For some, though, the pride would soon yield to envy. How could one woman be so beautiful, stylish, thin, yet intelligent and successful in a man’s world” (279). Though the jury selection ends up having no bearing on the case’s outcome, Grisham provides a glimpse into the mindset of how lawyers make decisions and how they themselves works as amateur psychologists. But going a step further, it’s keen insight into how women view each other. The ambivalence of sisterhood and competition, not just for men but for a percentage of the slice of American pie left by men.
Essentially, we learn something about how law works & lawyers think. We get a glimpse into an interesting subset of society. It’s a peak into the unknown. We can’t keep up with changing subsets and footnotes that make up our laws, and the idea of sitting through a law briefing is exhausting in itself. And yet, we wish to know more about it. Grisham provides a pop legal class in the guise of a narrative.
And even though he mentions the tediousness of court or paper work or research, he gets us to the story and to the characters. He does have some cliches, but he describes well and avoids wooden dialogue. And we like someone who can make the uneventful exciting. Perhaps that, more than any other characteristic, reflects a good story teller. We humans are interested in justice, and we like to understand how the gray areas of rules are defined and the circumstances in which they are circumvented. That is to say we are interested in law but not necessarily the legal process. When a lay person thinks about the logistics of the legal process, we tend to picture an endless trail of paperwork like the image formed when two mirrors face each other.