Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: "The Litigators" by John Grisham

This past Tuesday, October 25, 2011, John Grisham's new legal drama "The Litigators" was released to the public. The release of Grisham's novels are usually highly anticipated by his numerous fans, and rightly so. This newest novel only justifies the excitement stirred by the idea of a new book from America's best storyteller.

Early in his career, Grisham's novels were considered legal thrillers, stories that mixed law and courtrooms with spies, the mob, violence, and suspense. In recent years, Grisham's novels have become a podium from which the author can present an issue about law or government that he feels is important along with his personal opinion on the subject ("The Appeal" and "The Confession" are two such novels, the first expressing disgust at companies who bankroll election hopefuls in exchange for political favors; the second expressing disdain for the death penalty). In this new work, Grisham attacks the issue of mass tort cases and lawyers. As Grisham explains in the novel, mass tort lawyers (or ambulance chasers) find flaws in medication or other substances consumed by people and sniff out as many clients as possible who want to sue the manufacturer of the product. These lawyers claim to have the best interests of the public in mind, but in actuality they are more concerned with raking in 40% of the settlement. When reading this book, it is clear that Grisham as no respect for such lawyers and is calling for laws to limit their ability to take advantage of thousands of people.

The story itself is brilliantly put together. With a combination of quirky characters, some subtle humor, and courtroom theatrics, John Grisham eloquently tells the story of David Zinc, a young lawyer and husband who finds the world of big law firms, 80 hour work weeks, and no vacations too much to handle. In an almost comical string of events, David finds himself working for the law firm of Finely and Figg, a two-man law firm run by street lawyers Oscar Finely and Wally Figg. Working on a hunch from a client, the three tort-inexperienced lawyers are suddenly on the front lines of a nation-wide tort case against a highly respected, but controversial, drug company.

Throughout the book, there are a cast of characters that represent real-life roles Grisham observes in the world of mass torts. Wally Figg represents the small-time lawyer with dreams of big money, and it is obvious when reading that Grisham's advice to similar lawyers is to stay with what they know when practicing law. They have no idea what they are getting into with massive federal cases (which most tort cases are). A mass tort lawyer named Jerry Alisandros represents the multimillionaire tort lawyers who constantly survey the medical world looking for a defective drug. The cold-hearted, greedy, and dismissive characterization of Alisandros summarizes the author's feelings about lawyers who share the same specialty. David Zinc, the protagonist of the book, represents the lawyers Grisham has the most respect for: lawyers who sacrifice, but still put their own families first; lawyers who work hard but are working for their clients and not for a big check; lawyers who play by the rules instead of searching for loopholes.

In all of the books I have read by John Grisham, I have never found myself cheering for a specific character more than I was cheering for David Zinc. His compassion, dedication, family values, willingness to learn, and high regard for professional ethics defy the stereotype most of us assign to lawyers. There are lawyers who are greedy, sleazy, and highly unethical; and Grisham certainly shows his agreement through his antagonist tort lawyer characters. However, through the character of David Zinc, Grisham calls our attention to the lawyers who truly are working hard to help people. His constant defense of his clients, coworkers, and family make it literally impossible not to like or identify with him in at least a minor way.

Every John Grisham novel is great in its own way, but "The Litigators" is by far his best work since "The Broker" in 2005. If a reader would like to read another book about torts, but one that can be more classified as a thriller, consider "The King of Torts," another Grisham novel, that was released in 2003. In this earlier book Grisham does not voice an opinion about torts, but does show them from a different point of view. Reading both will without a doubt increase any reader's opinion of John Grisham as a masterful writer and storyteller.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Remember The Lord In the Days of Your Youth

Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them.'" My wife read me this verse tonight because she wants to put it up in her classroom as a reminder to her students to always remember God's presence in their lives. As I thought about this verse, I reflected back to my days a middle school student (something I do quite frequently now that I am teaching middle school) and I came to this conclusion: students, both middle school and high school students, need to be reminded as much as (if not more than) anyone of God's presence in their lives.

Looking at the verse from Ecclesiastes, it is apparent that this verse was intended for young adults and children based off of the phrase "in the days of your youth." The first part of the verse ("Remember also your Creator") is a universal command that can be directed towards all people of any age group. However, it is the rest of the verse that speak directly to young people in a way that they may not realize.

I remember my days back in middle school with a mixture of feelings. I cannot say I look back on those days fondly, but I also cannot say they were the worst years of my life. What I can say with certainty is that even though I knew about Jesus and had what I thought to be a good relationship with Him, I did not fully understand His role in what was happening around me. Nor did I understand that I would one day be looking back on my life with an entirely different perspective than what I had. In short, I was living in the moment. In the same way, I notice many of my students with a similar disposition. They know about Jesus, believe in Him as their Savior, but do not fully understand His role in their lives. They may think they do, but their actions and attitudes seemingly prove otherwise (I say this, of course, knowing full well that I cannot really say for certainty what is truly in their heart; I am speaking merely from outside observation. God alone knows what their beliefs and thoughts are).

These reflections about my past and observations of my current students force me to think of the latter part of the verse above: "before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them.'" As adults, we should be constantly looking towards the future, at times with hope but most of the time with worry and dismay (even though Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worrying about itself). Some of this worry is founded in selfish pursuits such as wealth and prosperity. However, some of us look to the future with worry, not because we are worried about ourselves per say, but rather for the morality of the world we live in. In a culture that seemingly becomes more immoral every passing day, we can say along with the King Solomon, "I have no pleasure in them [these present days]."

My students, though, do not seem to see the evil. They generally know when things are wrong, but they do not always understand the lasting effects of wrong-doing. My students, along with many adults in American culture, live for the present with no thought for how present actions can affect their future. The fact of the matter is that things done and said today can have major repercussions later. It is because of this that students need to be reminded of God's presence in their lives right now. He can lead them to make good decisions, decisions that will lead to blessings later. If we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can help students realize this, then they can perhaps find a more cheerful future.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Review: "The Brethren" by John Grisham

It takes a certain mind, a certain genius (if you will) to create a new genre in literature. Years ago, John Grisham did just that, creating the legal thriller genre that has captivated readers for nearly two decades. In addition, a number of his national (and international) bestsellers have been made into Hollywood movies (titles that include "A Time to Kill," "The Firm," "Runaway Jury," "The Rainmaker," and others). In the legal thriller "The Brethren," Grisham again takes readers on a wild journey of suspense, controversy, and wonderment. Readers who do not like Grisham's novels argue that many of his stories blend together and his genre lacks any originality these days. However, in this particular book, Grisham displays the ingenuity and superb storytelling that made him America's favorite storyteller.

"The Brethren" is an exciting, twisting story of Presidential hopeful Aaron Lake, who is raking in funds from military and defense companies as he travels the country warning Americans that the military is too weak to fight the great enemy, whoever that might be, that is growing stronger and stronger every single day. Teddy Maynard, the elderly but brilliant head of the CIA, secretly pulls the strings behind Lake's campaign; that is until one of his strings hit a snag.

Finn Yarber, Hatlee Beech, and Joe Roy Spicer are three disgraced judges, serving jail terms in Trumble Federal Prison in Florida. Aged beyond their primes, these middle-aged former judges have engineered a get-rich-while-we-wait scheme, extorting money from individuals under a rouse and with the help of their sleezeball lawyer, Trevor Carson. Everything is going along as planned and they have extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from their victims; that is until they draw in the wrong victim.

In a series of wrong turns, political maneuvers, and desperate attempts to conceal identity and collect fortunes, Grisham masterfully brings the seemingly unrelated stories together in an unexpected and brilliant way. As usual, Grisham makes the "law" lingo easy to understand for his readers who are not well-versed in law and the work of lawyers, judges, and politicians. His character development, particularly of Aaron Lake and Trevor Carson, is well-planned, precise, and balanced.

While one is constantly asking about what will happen next, one is always confident that Grisham has the answer in the next turn of the page. Particularly engaging is the race for the nomination for President of the United States that Aaron Lake enters. In no legal or political book, or any book that involved politics, are the intricacies and underworld dealings of political races portrayed so dramatically. For this reader, reading this book during the race for the Republican nomination for President has made the news surrounding it much more appealing and interesting. If one finds political races at all interesting in anyway, this book will also spark one's interest.

John Grisham comes out with a new novel once a year, and while this book was written nearly 11 years ago, it still excites this fan for the release of his new book. While some readers, such as myself, may disagree with the political arguments present in his books, Grisham nonetheless captivates his audience and presents his point-of-view in a way that is easy to understand. Many authors today do not possess this gift, but Grisham has it and uses it in abundance. His unique storytelling and exciting plots make any of his legal thrillers an enjoyable read, and "The Brethren" is no exception.