Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Open letter to John Grisham

Dear Mr. Grisham --

I just finished reading your novel The King of Torts. It was structured as a tragedy. I've had some discussions with writer friends about the dearth of tragedy in American literature, and so I was interested in the ending of The King of Torts. The bankruptcy, the loss of his legal license and the departure from Washington, D.C., functioned as a sort of symbolic death of Clay Carter, but it was offset by the new beginning of Clay and Rebecca.

Did you decide to soften the ending or was it something your publisher urged you to do? Was it because American audiences can't handle tragedy? If so, do you have any guess why that might be?

I was going to send this letter to John Grisham, but I quickly found that he apparently doesn't want to receive e-mail from readers. I can understand why, of course, but I still wonder about the answer to my questions.

However, since he probably won't ever see the letter anyway, I'll add some more questions that I didn't include out of politeness.

Did you write Clay Carter as a jerk deliberately? Was I fulfilling your expectations when I shouted, "Yes!" at his defeat? I never really liked him, never quite identified with him enough to be sympathetic. His attitude toward his job, his girlfriend's parents, the people around him was so dismissive and judgmental that it was hard to become enough attuned to his desires to experience his rise and fall with him. He works with the public defender's office, but never makes any attempt to find a job elsewhere, doesn't even look into one that's offered to him, and yet jumps at his first chance to get out when Max Pace shows up. Why didn't he just move to Seattle or somewhere? (I know why, but the reason isn't strong enough, considering where he did go.)

The aim of tragedy, says Aristotle, is to inspire pity and fear. Was that your aim in The King of Torts? How does a writer evoke pity? I don't think it's enough to have the protagonist beaten up by thugs.

The character needs to come to terms with what he's done. Clay realizes he was greedy. OK. But you keep telling me that Clay is not really responsible for the illness of the second set of drug patients, even though he clearly put his own interests ahead of theirs. So no he's not responsible for their deaths, but he is, by his own reckoning, responsible for their not being compensated enough for their suffering.

I wanted to read The King of Torts because it was recommended as a view into the kind of lawyering John Edwards has done. It was an interesting glimpse into that realm of the law, but I still don't care for Grisham's nonfiction passages. I wandered into the swamp in The Testament and put the book down and never picked it up again. I don't think I'll bother with any more Grishams.

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