Saturday, March 01, 2008

Book Review John Grisham's "The Appeal"

“I was early on the list for the new John Grisham novel, The Appeal, at the Warren County Library and can report that he is back in his familiar small town Mississippi territory, but only marginally on track.

A predatory chemical company has poisoned an entire town for years and two idealistic attorneys take on the big business bad guys and win a huge judgment. The Machiavellian president of the chemical company angles to win the appeal by fixing the composition of the state's supreme court.

There's a grim contemporary reality here as the crooked businessmen and their political stooges seem primed to win, but there is little emotional depth on display. None of the characters are developed beyond the stereotypical. The victim is a cipher who cries, the crusading attorneys lose everything but seem to carry on without a single doubt, the stooge candidate chosen to run against the sitting judge seems like a Mitt Romney clone, and the villain, is given not one human trait other than greed. The most interesting character in the book is the third person in the supreme court race, a legal maverick, who campaigns from casino to casino in a drunken stupor. Unfortunately he drops out of the race and disappears.

These are all people you might want to know more deeply, but Grisham keeps you at arm's length with a kind of matter of fact reportorial style that tells you what’s happening without exploring anything other than the most basic of motives. Nobody's second thoughts are given enough development to give their character's real internal dramatic tension and the exterior tension is also unsatisfying because the central protagonists never really meet and do battle. To be fair, though, this may be the real point. In today's world the manipulators are so completely removed from the battleground that the little people on the front lines just get ground down and discarded without ever becoming conscious of what or who hit them. I give it a 3 out of 5.”

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