Friday, April 1, 2011

Scott Turow

I'm about halfway through a novel by Scott Turow. It's not his latest, but his second to last one, I think. Turow is sort of the thinking man's John Grisham. He is, apparently, still a working lawyer in Chicago despite his success as a novelist. His biggest hit, of course, was 'Presumed Innocent' back in the late eighties. I remember reading that novel when it was a sensation. I would take the subway into Manhattan every day from Astoria and it seemed nearly everybody on the train was reading it.

Like Faulkner, he keeps a cast of characters going throughout all of his books which are set in the fictional 'Kindle County' in the midwest, clearly meant to be Cook County. Turow is a fine writer, not in the least lawyerly or didactic. Unlike Grisham, with clear cut villains and heroes, Turow sees the law as a grey place, an ever-bending and very flixible line that can be crossed and re-crossed.

The book is called 'Reversable Errors' and, like all of Turow's books, once I got into it a bit, I became riveted. He knows his way around a sentence, this guy.

One of the interesting devices he uses is the 'judgemental set up scene.' He will introduce a character, revel in recounting his or her questionable moral decisions and/or lifestyle and then take a literary U-turn and explain what it might be like to be in their shoes. Just when you think you have somebody to root against, he turns the tables. It sort of violates all the 'writing class' rules one is taught and I love it. It tends to keep the reader on shaky moral grounds. Like a lot of readers, I love to see a good villain get his come-uppance. Often times, like Wambaugh, Turow places his cops in a wholly separate universe of right and wrong. They break rules to fight the greater evil. And usually, the police officers are blind to the moral implications of their actions. But his primary characters are officers of the court and they all seem to regard cops as a necessary evil. My thoughts exactly.

Another aspect of his writing that I enjoy are his physically less than ideal women characters. Unlike Grisham, there are rarely 'stunning, beautiful, desired' women to be chased. Turow's women are flawed. A little overweight, or older than one might expect, or perhaps even downright ugly. No matter, he still basks in their sexuality. And in Turow's world, a fifty five year old woman is still very much a sexual being.

As I mentioned, his most famous novel is 'Presumed Innocent,' which was later made into a film with Harrison Ford. It was one of those rare books that was actually very good writing and also happened to capture the public's imagination. Plus it had the added benefit of a startling 'reveal' towards the end of the story. It was one of those delicious who-done-its that, once explained, made the reader slap his forehead and say, 'Of course!'

Unlike Grisham's lawyers, Turow's people don't seem to get a great deal of enjoyment from the law. His characters all find themselves sinking in a dirty mire of hypocricy and double standards at one point or another. One can only suspect that Turow himself thinks this way. If so, it's refreshingly honest writing. In the words of Shakespeare, 'First, kill all the lawyers.' Consequently, Turow's characters are all on the line, neither good people or bad people but rather people struggling mightily to maintain dignity in a sea of mendacity.

This is my fifth Turow novel and he has yet to disappoint me. He's the kind of writer you'd really like to have a long cup of coffee with if you could. I also feel that way about John Irving. I'd really just like about an hour or two to simply pick his brain. And Turow, like Irving, has no compulsions about killing characters off. It's another device academia would frown upon, spending a great deal of the book flushing out a leading figure and then unceremoniously disposing of them. Tends to keep the reader unsettled.

I have so much respect for good prose writers. If nothing else, for their sheer stamina, living and wallowing in a story, a plot, a theme for years at a time sometimes. The good ones - the Irvings, the Turows, the Hemingways, the Faulkners, what have you - are latter day knights, I think. Spending their countless days and nights pursuing a murky truth that ultimately can't be found. They never patronize, these writers. They assume, rightly so, that their reader is every bit as bright as they are.

See you tomorrow.