Linda's Reviews > The Appeal

The Appeal by John Grisham
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Jul 03, 11

bookshelves: fiction, legal-thriller
Read from June 20 to July 02, 2011

I'm a Grisham fan from the "old" days - The Firm, The Pelican Brief, A Time to Kill . . . . There used to be a time when I would rush to the "4-Day Book Express" shelf at my local library the minute a Grisham book came out, for the best chance to be able to read it straightaway without having to wait in a 3-month hold queue. But my intensity began to fade as he started to drift away from those winning formulas, starting around A Painted House. Since then, I still try to read his books, but without any sense of urgency. After missing a few, I've been catching up a bit, out of order, and I have to say what I'm learning is that the quality of his novels these days is all over the place. Gone is the consistency and reliable suspense of The Client or The Rainmaker, which in addition to giving us unlikely heroes, also gave us clever plot twists and the thrill of being in on the underdog's "gotcha" victory over some real nasties. Instead I find I've been working my way through exasperating letdowns like The Associate and poorly-executed "issue" tales like The Appeal.

The Appeal has a good chunk of the raw materials for a successful popular awareness-raising story. The victims in the story are all salt-of-the-earth type small town folk, from the working-class townspeople who did nothing to deserve their fate but drink the water (and shower with it, and cook with it) that came out of the taps in their factory town, where the factory blithely dumped noxious barrels-full of its toxic chemicals; to their earnest pastor, who finds his calling in ministering to the psychological needs of a cancer-stricken community; to the plaintiff's lawyers, a local-girl(-and-boy)-makes-good married couple who refuse to give up on the case, losing all their comparative wealth in the process, ending up teetering on the edge of personal bankruptcy. Most of the villains are easily imaginable, too: The factory and its rapacious owner, who are indifferent to workers they exploit, as long as the profit is pouring in. The Northern lawyers with the flat, nasal accents, there only to rip off the locals some more. The morally corrupt politicians, making a buck everywhere they turn. Only the shadowy political "fixers", working in the background, pulling all the right strings to the benefit of their deep-pocketed clients, could test the reader's credulity -- but, honestly, in the era of Koch Industries and the Koch family foundations, their nefarious behind-the-scenes machinations seem a lot more believable than not now, too.

So, the story seems to have all the right players in all the right spots, but still, Grisham just can't take it across the goal line. The pace is tense, but largely lacking in dynamics. As first one then another potential high point is snatched away at the last moment, each successive bit of apparent good news brings not a feeling of relief, but rather one of foreboding -- OK, what's going to go wrong this time? It just becomes an insistent drumbeat of bad news. It's really a shame, because with The Confession, Grisham actually demonstrated that he could pull off a successful "issue" novel. In that one, all the flaws of the capital punishment system are exposed, with lots of real cases thrown in for good measure, while at the same time Grisham keeps his readers engaged with an entertaining, suspenseful read. The problem at issue here in The Appeal, the power of private (corporate) money in the election of ostensibly neutral judicial offices, is a real one, and the potential ramifications are really as scary as he makes them seem in this book. But instead of making this reader want to take to the streets to fight the injustice -- like The Confession did -- The Appeal left me wondering where I could get my hands on some happy pills. The influence of corporate money in today's America is so pervasive -- and so effective , it just makes you feel hopeless about the possibility of change.

The series of events portrayed in the book didn't fail to show me how bad the problem is. In fact, I'd have to say the the book succeeded -- leaving me nothing short of depressed.

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Reading Progress

06/26/2011 page 177
48.0%

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