February 25, 2006

Book 4: The Last Juror

The Last Juror
John Grisham

This book is not exceptionally well-written, but it also lacks the plot and continuity to get it off the ground. Put simply, it fails on all counts. The big shake-up surprise at the end is predictable, and even if I hadn't blatantly seen it coming to smack me in the face (luckily, I was able to duck and sustained no damage), it is not of a magnitude to shock or even merely stun anyone. The effect is, "Oh, wow, right, duh." My other major gripe is that Grisham tries much too hard to make the novel relevant and insightful regarding racism in the 70s. The racial tensions revealed by the plot are meaningless and underdeveloped. The effect of this is to make Grisham seem to be a meaning-mongerer eager only to fill pages rather than paint a finely attuned portrait of the day and age in which his characters are operating. In this case, he has no excuse, as the issue is school integration in the 70s.

Did I mention that this has nothing to do with the plot except to make it forgettable? Though this forgetfulness comes into play when Grisham tries again to overextend his limited writing capabilities in attacking a flawed legal system, it is still ineffective and does not even function as a plot device. Grisham cannot make up his mind regarding the genre of his work. Is it a fictional coming-of-age memoir? Is it a murder mystery (albeit one where all the answers are given out on a silver platter, requiring no thought whatsoever of the reader)? Is it a legal thriller? Is it an expose about racial tensions in 1970s Mississippi? Is it a scathing revelation of corruption in the judicial system? Can it decide? No. Grisham would do much better to stick to one or maybe two genres instead of trying to make his book a catchall.

Oh, and the end is sad to, for no reason. Grisham gives in to the pressures of modernization and his character sells out to The Man after avowing earlier not to. This change of heart is not explained. After reading this novel, Grisham would have you believe that the South can turn anyone conservative, that rich entrenched whites own the system, and that blacks and whites live happily (that is, the blacks are quite satisfied with their lower position) and best when separated by the enigmatic "tracks."

Grade: C-

February 8, 2006

Book 3: Hard Times

Hard Times
Charles Dickens

Well, Dickens it is, and what a letdown it was. Though it was better than Great Expectations which did not exceed my expectations for it which were, indeed, great, it came nowhere near the level of narrative brilliance that was A Tale of Two Cities, which incidentally remains one of my favorite books. This is another book I read for class, and one thing I like about college is that the textbooks are actual books in many cases. This book isn't bad, it just doesn't really shine the way I expected it to. I suppose I should be grateful because I had the chance to use this book to call Charles Dickens a bourgeois capitalist in my midterm's thesis. Ah, Marx, forever my friend.

The best part about the book was the very beginning, where the narrator is talking about Fact (capital F). I caught on immediately and thought that the critique of modern industrial society was spot-on, and it is in this critique that the novel really shines. Sissy Jupe is a pleasant break from the "Gradgrind" (doesn't that sound so drab?) world of Fact, Fact, Fact. For a cynic like me, it was great to read an established writer being skeptical about the modern industrial state, which is increasingly depriving us of our humanity and ability to communicate, and needless to say our individuality and distinct worth.

It's when Dickens gets into the narrative here that he strikes out, which is unfortunate but seems to be a recurring theme through the work of his I've been exposed to (and here stands the shining exception of perennial favorite "A Christmas Carol"). Oh, and about the bourgeois capitalist bit. While Dickens does allude to the dehumanization of factory hands in his novel, everyone is content with their position (at least to a certain extent) and there is no widespread social realization or call for revolution, making Dickens an inherent supporter of the existing oppressive system. Please, can that view have merit. I'll let you know come Tuesday.

Grade: B