10 December 2007

Writing on Reading: Turow and Grisham

I was inspired by an earlier post by Lesley to start posting about what I've been reading. The first two books I wanted to mention are legal thrillers: Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow and The Testament by John Grisham. Presumed Innocent is a reread of one of my favorite books. Turow pulls off an amazing feat--writing in first person POV, hiding something important from the reader, and NOT making the reader feel cheated by the narrator. Also, all of the characters in the book feel very real and deep, especially the huge range of emotions experienced by the protagonist. My only criticism of Presumed Innocent is that Turow gets carried away in certain places with backstory on certain characters and information that is not critical to the plot. In a few places, I found myself skimming paragraphs of exposition so I could get back to the good stuff.

In stark contrast to Presumed Innocent, Grisham's The Testament is, well, awful. This book starts off in first person POV, written by a character who dies at the end of the chapter. IMHO, killing off your first person POV character is a big no-no. Grisham then introduces several other POV characters (now in third person POV), none of whom are the protagonist. We finally meet the protagonist about fifty pages into the book. The POV character, a recovering alcoholic, seems to get pushed this way and that by the other characters in the book. His own goals seems to change on an almost daily basis, and his main internal conflict (alcoholism) is resolved by a religious conversion that comes from left field. In fact, whole book felt self-righteously preachy to me, as if I were being repeatedly bashed over the head with Grisham's anti-materialism, pro-Christian message. I went ahead and finished the book, hoping to find the exciting plot twist at the end that Grisham is famous for. It never came.

Presumed Innocent was Turow's first novel (not counting 1L, about his days at Harvard Law) and I could easily see why it was such a success. Grisham's career took off after his second novel, The Firm, which was also very good. I'm sure The Testament sold well because it had Grisham's name on the cover, but I wonder if Grisham (or his agent or editors) knew it wasn't quite up to snuff. Perhaps Grisham was more concerned about getting out his religious message than writing a well crafted novel, or maybe he was writing to a deadline and he forced this one out. Whatever the case, I'm going to try to read the "breakout" novels of popular authors and be weary of later ones that promise a lot but deliver very little.

1 comment:

lesleylsmith said...

I can see I'm going to have to reread Presumed Innocent!