Defending Jacob Discussion Journal

As we gathered to discuss Defending Jacob, the room was filled with chattering and DefendingJacobCoverenergy.  Several members noted that the book had been easy to read and kept them engaged. One new member said she was glad she read the book, but she couldn’t say she liked it.  Another was impressed by the realistic picture of our justice system. Yet another felt the book was full of holes and too much foreshadowing. One new member was disappointed by the ending, even angry. Perhaps, like the parents in the story, she had wanted the twist to be exoneration.

Does a murder gene exist? Which plays a larger roll in determining behavior, genetics or environment? We were mixed in our opinions. We asked: What does the author intended for us to get from his novel? Why does it matter? This is fiction, a novel, something to be read for pleasure. True. But many of us want more and our book club challenges us like a lateral thinking puzzle.

We discussed the reliability of the narrator, especially a character who had the “murder gene.” One member suggested that the Grand Jury interview sections were imagined rather than real. Another wondered about the mother—we only heard her side of the story through the narrator. Some felt that the mother’s actions in the end were admirable; others considered her insane. We had several conversations going on at once and the enthusiasm was palpable.

The biggest surprise, though, was when one member mentioned that our discussion had actually made her dislike the book! Quite the opposite of the usual response! Books, like people, are full of surprises.  Our book club keeps us guessing!  Our next book, Round House by Louise Erdrich, is a National Book Award winner.  Give it, and us, a try and join the discussion!

  • Other works discussed:
  • The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout
  • The Sopranos (Television Series)

3 thoughts on “Defending Jacob Discussion Journal

  1. I liked the book but found much of it disturbing–the rather unethical behavior of the policeman father tampering with potential evidence, for example. Also, as parents, can we be objective regarding our children? He did seem like a great kid. It is almost impossible to give up on children and maybe we shouldn’t. I found it very thought provoking, even without the “criminal gene” theory. See you in March. MBC

  2. Although I was very engaged by the beginning of Defending Jacob, I soon became uneasy. I didn’t like the narrator. I didn’t trust him, which is all right, since an unreliable narrator is usually a strong hook–one wants to outthink the character. But in this case, I felt he was himself a sociopath, at best. He wasn’t just lying to himself because of his professed love of his son. He was blind to any flaw in his own reasoning. He felt the love of his son answered every question. Actually, I didn’t really believe he loved his son. It was something other than love. I didn’t believe the consistent, ugly voice of the narrator’s father, either, or his extreme “loyalty” to his son. That father’s voice is being reported by the narrator, so it must have the twist of the speaker. I liked the complex issues being raised by the work, though. And maybe they are better presented because the reader is in the same position as the community around that family–trying to interpret the three men who might carry the killer gene.

    • Our discussion group was split about whether the narrator really loved his son. One member pointed out that he could truly love the idea of his son and how important the son (and his wife) was to his vision of himself. We were split in the same way a community is often split in areas of justice and punishment, so that last is an interesting correlation.

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