I enjoy a John Grisham book as much as the next gal. When a new one comes out, I'm usually #375 on the holds list at the library, being too cheap to shell out $25 for it. His books are characterized (in case you don't live on Earth) by lawyers in trouble, using their wits to get themselves out of the grasps of greedy corporations/lawyers/individuals. I have my list of Grisham favorites and I get excited thinking that the newest one will be added to that list. Grisham's newest novel is The Associate and it won't be added to that list.
I promise to tell you why, but first I'll give you a synopsis of the book. Bright and hard-working Yale Law School student Kyle McAvoy is about to graduate and enter into the field of public service, using his gifts to help others. He is cornered by a mysterious character, Bennie Wright, who claims to have evidence that he was an accomplice to a rape that happened when he was 20 years old, living with frat brothers and binge drinking on a regular basis. The girl, Elaine Keenan, had cried rape back then, but was known to be premiscuous and unreliable, so the police couldn't put enough evidence together to prosecute. Kyle has moved on since then, so a video from that night with compelling evidence that there was, in fact, a rape is horrifying news. Kyle was passed out drunk on an armchair when it happened, but just being there is enough to get him a nasty trial and possible jail time.
Here's comes the extortion, people! Bennie wants Kyle to work for a huge law firm in New York City instead of the poor and downtrodden and act as a spy. Bennie's client wants documents and information about a huge lawsuit that has to do with contracts between massive corporations and the military. Kyle is pressured into this deed by fear of the damage that the rape video could cause. He never even told his parents about what had happened because the police never went forward with it. He goes to work for Scully and Pershing with Bennie's team hot on his trail, monitoring his every move, bugging his apartment and laptop and is forced into meeting with him on a weekly basis. His life is horrific.
Kyle is smart. He can lose the guys that trail him constantly. He knows about all the wiretapping and bugs and collects his own evidence of his blackmailers while he is under Bennie's power. The action is constant, the law firm brutally inhumane about how they treat their associates, the technology advanced, and the story keeps it all going at a fast clip. The problem was that I just don't care about Kyle. I wasn't emotionally invested in his success. He was no Darby Shaw (The Pelican Brief), Rudy Baylor (The Rainmaker), Mordecai Green (The Street Lawyer), Luke Chandler (A Painted House) or any of Grisham's other characters that I wanted to see succeed. I didn't wish Kyle ill, I just didn't care.
It didn't help that I didn't particularly like any of the other characters. Joey, Baxter and Alan were his former roommates and were unlikeable in every way. Baxter at least got sober and started making amends with people from his past, but that doesn't last for long. Bennie is a pretty good villain, but he gets very little attention other than Kyle obsessing over who he works for. Dale, Kyle's pseudo-girlfriend, is okay but gets almost no dialogue. Kyle's dad, John, gets a scene at the end that is one of the best parts of the book, but it was all of 5 or 6 pages. What this book lacks, that I know Grisham is capable of, is great characters. These characters are absolute dry toast and nobody likes eating dry toast. You only eat it if there's nothing else in the kitchen.
So sad. I feel frustrated when I read books like this from an author that can be really amazing, or just dumb. It's a gamble if my time spent reading his newest book will make it on the favorite list, or make me annoyed for having spent time on it. This is a draft of a letter I'm mentally composing for Mr. Grisham.
Dear John Grisham,
You know, I like your books. In fact, I was in Oxford, Mississippi one time and I actually went to the section of the library on the Ole Miss campus that is named after you. It was closed so I couldn't go in, but I pushed my face up to the glass and looked around as best I could. Most of what I know about the law comes from reading your books and I don't even care that it's fiction and therefore not reliable. I consider it gospel truth!
Now that I've buttered you up a bit, couldn't you put a warning label on the outside of each book, stating whether or not it is up to the caliber of A Time to Kill or The Runaway Jury or The Innocent Man? A big sticker, like the award stickers publishers love to smack on the covers of books, except it says, "Big Waste of Time But I Need to Make My Yacht Payments". I think people would appreciate the honesty. I know I enjoy a good fluff read every once in a while and I'd like to know if your latest book fluffs like cotton before I dedicate a Friday night to read it instead of playing on the Wii or clipping my toenails. You know, so I don't expect more than I'll actually be getting.
A big fan but probably not the biggest,
P.S. Would you autograph this copy of The Broker and send it back to me? It's one of my favorites. Thanks so much!