The Appeal

Friday, May 1, 2009


My sister helped me pick out today's book. We were searching for a book that would be the male equivalent of the fluffy, chick-lit, beach read. And I've always considered John Grisham to fit in that category.

Today's book; "A Mississippi jury returns a $41-million verdict against a chemical company accused of dumping carcinogenic waste into a small town's water supply. The company's ruthless billionaire CEO is thwarted and the good guys (a courageous young woman who lost her husband and child and her two lawyers who've gone half a million dollars in debt preparing her case) receives its just reward. This sounds like the end of a Grisham legal thriller, but instead it's the beginning of a book-length lesson in how greed and big business have corrupted our electoral and judicial systems. Grisham's characters are over-the-top. The CEO and the other equally overdone villains—his venal trophy wife, a self-serving senator and a pair of smarmy political fixers—as well as the unbelievably good-hearted, self-sacrificing lawyers and an honorable state judge, are one dimensional. Michael Beck, with his natural Southern drawl, does a fine job of adding credibility and nuance to the large cast. But his efforts are for naught. In fact, the more he makes us feel for these characters, the less apt we are to be satisfied with the sourball moral of Grisham's downbeat discourse."

While I was looking for the picture of today's book I ran across some reviews of the book, and according to the customer reviews on Amazon this is the worst of John Grisham's book. Whoops. I wish I would have known that before I picked out this book, because now I'm not sure my impressions of fluffy books for men is accurate. If I was judging it based on this book I would say that John Grisham novels are about two small steps up from a Danielle Steel novel, and one big step:

  • The big step would be that this book was actually accurate when it came to legal details. I cannot say the same about Danielle Steel - and if you've ever read the book Vanishing (which is quite possibly the worst written book I've ever read) you'll understand what I'm talking about. If you haven't read Vanishing then I strongly advise you to read it. But read it with a friend so you can make fun of it together, and rest up beforehand and be sure to eat lots of protein on reading day because there's so much ridiculousness to mock that you'll probably get really tired midway through. A good hearty mocking session requires preparation and proper fueling, the way that running a marathon does.

  • The small steps: 1. Everyone wasn't lusting after one another the way they do in fluffy novels for women. If this book had been aimed towards women every person in the book would have been undressing one another with their eyes (I have no idea what that's supposed to appeal to women, but apparently it's supposed to). 2. A third of the book isn't wasted on describing exactly what color of shirt and shoes everyone is wearing, and there's very little description of food or furniture. I consider that a plus. The only time I enjoy hearing every detail about the clothes in a novel is when it was written in the 80's and the clothes involve some heinous combination like an apricot silk shirt paired with a cinnamon colored tuxedo (I didn't make that description up, it came from a really cheesy book that I read in high school called Separate Beds). I find it endlessly amusing to hear what writers in the 80's considered an attractive outfit.

Beyond those three things I found the writing styles surprising similar. Both involve; narrators who don't seem to have any idea what's going on in the characters brains, every cliche imaginable, and about 100 pages that could have easily been cut out of the book without the story suffering in any way.

I've never read any of John Grisham's other novels, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I didn't think the book was as terrible as the customer reviews said it was. Of course I probably shouldn't trust those customer reviews - for all I know they could be filled with disgruntled exes and people who are upset that they didn't get mentioned on the acknowledgements pages who are signing up at Amazon under 50 different names so they can pretend to hate the book and exact their cowardly revenge. On the other hand, that probably just balances out the relatives who sign up under different names and pretend to like the book, assuring us that is, "changed my life forever" and "was the best book I've ever read, written by an amazing human being." I'm not kidding, I actually read that last one in the customer review section once. Show of hands: Who thinks that review was written by the author's Mother?