Mark Oppenlander's Reviews > Limitations

Limitations by Scott Turow
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's review
Apr 29, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: popular-fiction, mystery, thrillers, courtroom
Read in April, 2012

Scott Turow continues to be one of my favorite authors. I have seen reviewers compare him to writers such as Balzac, Dickens and Faulkner rather than merely to other writers of legal thrillers. As a writer of bestselling popular fiction, this is high praise. With his elegant use of language, deft characterizations and uncanny ability to draw out the humanity of every villain and the foibles of every hero, his work transcends simple genre classification.

I'll admit that this is not Turow's best book. But a mediocre Scott Turow book is better than 90% of what is published today, so this is still quite worthwhile. "Limitations" was apparently written as a serialized story in a newspaper or magazine first and then transferred to book form, which may account for its rapid pacing and overall slimness; it is more of a novella than a novel. In my mind, the brevity works against Turow a bit. The book simply doesn't have the time to build up steam and thus does not carry the plot velocity or moral weight of some of Turow's best works (e.g. the epic and wonderful "Laws of Our Fathers").

The story is (deceptively) simple: George Mason, an appelate court judge is working on deciding a particularly tough rape case that may have gone beyond the statute of limitations. The case reminds him of things in his own past that necessarily come back to haunt him as he tries to write an opinion that will likely be controversial no matter what he decides. Meanwhile, his wife is ill and he is receiving death threats from an unknown source. All of the plot elements come together in the end, as is usual with Turow, but not in a way that is overly simplistic or "easy." And of course, what is most important in the book is not the specifics of the plot at all, but the moral struggle, as Mason weighs the limitations of both the law and of individual human beings. What can we expect of ourselves? Of others? What is too much to ask?

If you like Turow, you should find this a tasty appetizer. If you haven't read Turow before, I probably wouldn't start here. Pick up "Presumed Innocent" or "Personal Injuries" instead. Then, if you like his work, come back to this one later.

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