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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

John Grisham's THE ASSOCIATE

         When I moved out of my parents' house many years ago, I left behind many books that I had accumulated.  Some of these were from college and several were books I had obtained as a teenager through the Doubleday Book Club.  There is also a large collection of books that had been acquired by my father, my brothers and sisters, and perhaps others. Being a notoriously slow reader, I still have not read most of these books.

          Whenever I go to visit my mother, a visit which usually lasts from one to two weeks, I typically read at least one of the books from her home library.  I always bring a few books with me to read on the plane or wherever else I may be waiting, but the lure of those books that sit at my mother's house always makes me put aside my new reads to lose myself in one of the old books.

           This year when I arrived at my mother's house, I found a nearly new copy of John Grisham's most recent novel, THE ASSOCIATE, on the dresser in the room where my wife and I always stay.  The book had been left behind by my sister Joni when she and her husband, Jack, had visited the previous month.  Joni told me yesterday that she had not read the book yet, but it was okay because a lady on the plane they were on had given the book to her.  All I can say is that I'm glad that neither Joni nor I had to pay for this book because I would have felt ripped off if I had.  As it is I guess I was kind of ripped off for my time, but I was on vacation so I guess it wasn't that bad.

         I had never before read anything by John Grisham but I was certainly familiar with him since he is a "star" of the modern literary world.  I had seen the Grisham book-based movie RUNAWAY JURY, mainly because a friend of mine had a part in it, but I found it to be a pretty mediocre film.  I wouldn't blame Grisham for the problems with the movie version since I understand that the filmmakers pretty well changed a lot from the book version.  And not being a particularly big fan of the legal thriller genre I have never been very curious about John Grisham books.  But this one was there for me to read so I gave it a shot.

          The story involves recent Yale Law graduate Kyle McAvoy who has a dirty secret in his past which sets him up for blackmail.  A mysterious group recruits him to accept a job at a major New York law firm where Kyle will be stealing secrets concerning a client that is involved in highly secret defense projects.  Soon Kyle finds himself to be a pawn in a very dangerous game. The reader is taken into the world of aspiring wannabe lawyers and a behind closed doors look into the legal megafirms.  It all seems highly accurate and mildly interesting, but I say with a yawn--So what!  The story is short on intrigue and excitement and adds up to a big nothing in my view.

          Don't get me wrong, I appreciate Grisham's writing expertise.  This was one of the reasons I opened the book in the first place.  John Grisham has a reputation as a best-selling novelist and I wanted to see what this reputation was all about.  Grisham has a skill of moving a story along and keeping the reader's attention.  At no time did I consider giving up on the book, but likewise at no time was I excited about what I was reading.  Grisham definitely has mastered the skill of hooking the reader.  His dialogue is strong and many of the descriptions are vivid.  However, the storytelling lacked substance and enthusiasm.

         While reading this I almost had the impression that THE ASSOCIATE was just written in a formulaic manner in order to fulfill Grisham's obligation to the publisher or merely to make money.  The book is not good literature, but it is a quick and mindless read.  I had the feeling that once he got past page 300, Grisham just decided to wrap up the story to get it over with while disregarding the reader's satisfaction.  The story just kind of runs out of steam and then it's over with no real conclusion.

        What happened here?  Did Grisham dead end with the story and not know where to take it?  Or is there an even more devious scenario?  The book is open-ended which leaves it wide open for a sequel.  I can see another three or four hundred pages of continuing the story.  Did John Grisham just hack out this trite piece of work in order to set hooked readers up for a sequel?  I certainly won't be reading it unless I find another free copy somewhere.  And my curiosity hasn't been whetted to read any more Grisham.

         If you've read THE ASSOCIATE or any other Grisham novels I'd like to hear your opinion.  Did I get it right or wrong in my review?  I don't read much in top selling books, but if you do please tell me--is much of the best seller list literature drivel?  Is mindless diversion what most of the general reading public is looking for? 



  1. Alas I haven't read any of his books, I go for the more light hearted variety. Though I have read about Percy Byshee Shelley and Mary Shelley who wrote Frankinstien as where I live their son also named Percy owned Boscombe Manor just along the road some 200 yrs ago. He also owned the land the house where I live is built.
    I'm sorry I can't help you about John Grisham.
    Take care.

  2. I haven't read The Associate. I think Grisham succeeded because he had a good sense of the heart of a conflict: even if the characters and dialogue weren't exceptional, you HAD to find out what happened next, and you felt that the emotional core of the story was real. Who wouldn't want to be the hero who triumphs over the evil lawyers/mafia/insurance company? And so we read on.

    He's got a new book of short stories out, maybe he's trying to go more literary, but felt obligated to balance that effort with a more classic tale that his heart wasn't really into?

  3. I haven't read any of John Grisham. It's not my type of reading, but I have always repected him as a published author.

    It just serves as a stark reminder that satisfying the reader is paramount.

  4. I've only read Runnaway Jury, also saw the movie and they are different for sure.

    I have several I have picked up of his in a stack to read.

    I think like television, some books can be mindless reading for pure pleasure and I am for it. Everything has its place, I guess.

  5. Thanks for stopping by my blog and for the invite.

    I am a huge Grisham fan and have read everything except his last two, which includes this one. So I can't say that I agree or disagree with you.

    I can say though that I used to love Stephen King's novels and then for some reason, they just stopped being good to me. perhaps it IS that "churning out" effect that you mention.

    I do know that most every one of Grishams other pieces are books that I read over and over. Very few are less than that quality to me. I am, too, a huge legal thriller fan so that helps.

    I got to interview John a year or so back for my radio show and I gotta tell you, the man is a wonderful person and a great writer....

    Perhaps this book is just a "burp" and you will find the next one outstanding.

    Again, thanks for stopping by.


  6. I absolutely loved this booked. I could not put it down! But I do like your perspective and writing style. Thank You for checking out my blog.


  7. I've enjoyed some of Grisham's books - especially Pelican Brief - but havne't read this one. Probably won't now :)

  8. The first few books he wrote were quite good, then it is as you said, the story line is the same,only the characters names and the names of places changed. There are only a few authors I've ever read that seem able to create different story lines, I mean take Agatha Christye, look at how many books she wrote and even though I've read one, I still will go back and reread! Sue Grafton is another.

  9. So, I accepted your challenge on my blog because I love connecting with my followers (btw it's SO weird to hear my blog described as one with a lot of followers--like 3 months ago I was stalled at 8). So I'm here, commenting AND following your blog.

    I do follow a lot of blogs (probably about 80) and I am in the middle of HEAVY revision right now, so I don't read every blog every day, and sometimes I read them at work, which means I only lurk without commenting because if I tried to comment it would probably say something like: I really enjoyed this post and your insights and I'm sorry your plumbing problem isn't covered because... (I work at an insurance company and I'm easily distracted)

    But I look forward to reading your posts and connecting with another writer.

  10. I have read almost all Grisham's stuff, including The Associate and I agree wholeheartedly with your review. I really like Grisham. I think he subtly deals with real human issues in as clean as possible a fashion as he can. I find his integration of his faith into his work to be interesting.

    That being said...I find that a few of his endings lack pizazz. I think he often seems to quit. This one was wholly unsatisfying in its conclusion, but the whole book didn't really get me to embrace Kyle. I didn't really feel for him in his situation or think he was doing the right thing. I felt that the morality of it was twisted when it came down to it, money buys forgiveness.

    Runaway Jury was a great book, I thought. The movie did not do it justice.

  11. I read this book because my bookclub picked it. And, well, you read the review so you know I didn't like it too much. One of the others, someone who reads everything from Grisham: I think Grisham is done now.

  12. I'm just noticing that I rudely did not respond to any of the comments on this post and for that I do apologize.

    Storytreasury-- I'd be interested to know the reactions of the rest of the bookclub members to this book. I wonder why they picked an older book like this. Maybe because there was the controversy about the quality of the storytelling.


  13. Literally just finished the book, and had to jump online to find out if people were as angry as I was. The book starts out fine, I liked many of the characters, and Baxter Tates transformation and ultimate demise were definitely the highlights. But the ending, if you can call it that, was laughable. The last few pages I kept thinking that Bennie was going to appear out of nowhere, shoot kyle dead, and we would be left with his final thoughts. I thought something outrageous had to be about to happen, because even though I only had a few pages left to read, the story demanded a hundred more for a real conclusion. I feel absolutely cheated. 300 pages of "I cant tell anybody" just for him to tell everybody and have nothing resolved. Can you tell I am upset?

  14. It's good to have some back-up on my opinion here and thanks for stopping by so long after this post initially published. I think I'll do a blog post about this sort of thing.

    I've read reviews about books from other successful authors who seemed to have just hacked out something for whatever reason. I guess I can't blame them in a way if they are just trying to fulfill some kind of contractual obligation or are desperate for income, but still what these authors put out there becomes part of their legacy and they should be more concerned about that. I wonder what Grisham himself thinks about this book?

    Thanks for the great and emotional commment (I love comments like that).



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