Friday, January 2, 2009

Grisham, Who Do I Root For?

I finished reading John Grisham's The Brethren. The storyline was moderately interesting.

The biggest problem I have with the book is the matter of a hero: there is none. There are definitely two sides. On the one hand there are the 3 judges (known as "the brethren") incarcerated in a federal prison who are working a blackmail scam. "Okay," the reader thinks, "these must be the bad guys."

On the other side is a congressman, Aaron Lake, who is approached by the head of the CIA to run for president. Lake is clean cut and has no vices or skeletons in his closet as near as the CIA can tell. "Here's the good guy," the reader thinks. "Here's who I root for. So what's the connection between Lake/CIA and the brethren?"

The connection is that Lake becomes ensnared by the brethren's blackmail scheme when he responds to a personal ad taken out by the brethren in a gay magazine. Though carefully using a different identity, the brethren discover his true identity and decide to lean on his multi-million dollar campaign for a lot of hush money and release from prison.

There's no one to root for. The brethren are obviously not heroes. CIA Director Teddy Maynard is essentially buying the election and is very cynical about all politicians. Lake is not who he appears to be; and he's campaigning on an issue that is a political winner, not on one that he has necessarily been passionate about in the past.

The reader comes away from the book more cynical (if possible) about politics, judges, the CIA, everything the book touches upon.

I didn't like the first Grisham book I read, either, Runaway Jury. It took a while for me to put a finger on why, but it was the same reason: there's no hero, no good guy. Sure there are two opposing sides, but neither wear white hats; both are tainted in big ways.

Beware: The Brethren spoiler
Everyone fares well in Grisham's conclusion. The judges are bought off. They are released from prison and spend the next couple years as millionaires in Europe. Lake escapes public embarrassment and goes on to win the election. CIA Director Maynard gets what he wants. The only thing that suffers is the reader's sense of justice.

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