Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fine Legal Satire

The Associate, by John Grisham, 2009

Say you want to write a satirical novel about the world of giant, high-powered international law firms, where mind-boggling amounts of money are billed every day, corruption and workaholism rule, and Sloth is the only one of the seven deadly sins that is not rampant.

Your problem: how do you find a likeable protagonist? Most people who work in such firms do so voluntarily. They fully subscribe to the philosophy that includes padding their hours, billing expensive lunches to clients, maintaining an insane, sleepless schedule, and scorning everyone who does not do the same. These people will be hard to identify with, at least for the rest of us who actually have time to read novels. So, where do you get a protagonist who works in such a firm, but who will also be a plausible good guy, one you and your readers can root for?

John Grisham solved this problem by making his protagonist an idealistic young law student who wants to use his degree to make the world a better place, but who is blackmailed into applying to a high-powered law firm so that he can steal its secrets for the blackmailer.

Yes, this book has some elements of a “thriller,” but arguably the richer part of it is the satire. Although not really a humor book, the satire sometimes gets funny. For example:

The sound of important papers being extracted crackled from the backseat, and Kyle knew something was being reviewed … After ten minutes of [driving in] in downtown traffic, Kyle was wet under the collar and breathing heavily … He found the lot but it was full, and this caused all manner of cursing in the rear seat. … Doug was stuffing papers back into his briefcase. Bard suddenly had business on the phone. “I don’t care. Any street. And if you can’t find a spot, then just keep making the block. Let us out here.” Kyle cut to the curb, and a horn erupted somewhere behind them. Both lawyers scrambled out of the rear seat. Peckham’s final words were, “Just keep moving, okay. You’ll find something.” Bard managed to tear himself away from his phone conversation long enough to say, “And be careful. It’s my wife’s.” Alone, Kyle eased away and tried to relax. … Every inch of available space was packed with vehicles and motorbikes. An amazing abundance of signs warned against parking near any potential space. Kyle had never noticed so many threatening signs. … At 11:00 a.m., Kyle congratulated himself because he could now bill the client $800 for driving in circles.