John Grisham is a lawyer- and politician-turned writer. He is on the board of the Innocence Project, whose goal is to exonerate the wrongly convicted.[i] His first book was published in 1989. Our selection, The Whistler (2016), is his 29thout of 32 novels, not counting six young-adult Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer books, one short story collection, and a few non-fiction titles. Several have been made into movies. I mention this because I was surprised that at least two of our members had never before read John Grisham and I started the meeting by asking members to list their favorite John Grisham book on our board (see below).
The Whistler was not a favorite. Although I have read favorable reviews, they were often generic and full of praise for his cause-driven subject matter. Our first responder this month burst forth from the dead quiet in the room, “It was fine. It was educational. Sort of.” For a new member to our group, it was the first book she had been able to read in four years that wasn’t for school— and she was disappointed. We seemed to agree that people never came alive. How could Greg Myers, the informant, just disappear, leaving Carlita? There was no suspense, mostly soapbox and exposition. Later in the discussion, one member said he liked the book, but if his favorite, The Pelican Brief, was a 9, The Whistler was a 6. Another member noted that the author could have left out 150 pages or so.
We discussed how parts of the story seemed farfetched: Would they really have gone out to the Reservation alone, so late at night? How do you disable an airbag and seatbelt without indicator lights showing the problem? The risk involved in causing an accident seemed unbelievable – why not just shoot them there in the remote dark?
One of us was surprised by the level of corruption. Another found the family’s reaction to Hugo’s death believable and especially interesting. He also liked that Hugo was African-American and that his race was not an issue in the story. Someone else, though, wondered why Hugo’s race had to be mentioned at all. And wasn’t it awfully convenient that Lacy had a brother who could rescue her with an airplane? Which brought us back to our expectation of a higher level of suspense. We considered that Gunther might have been involved in the corruption. Or perhaps her FBI confident, Allie Pacheco, had been bought out. No such luck.
The first formal discussion question mentioned that “Grisham has been accused of ignoring strong females for his lead characters.”[ii]We didn’t all agree with this statement, but upon discussion, we definitely felt that Lacy Stolz was a strong female lead. One of us particularly admired her—she didn’t take no for an answer, she got injured and got right back up and off to work, she had no desire for the traditional female role of wife and mother, and she seemed to like living alone.
One of us had researched the whistleblower reward laws and told us details about the largest payout in US history, $104 million to Bradley Birkenfeld.[iii] We discussed famous whistleblowers like Edward Snowden[iv]and Daniel Ellsberg[v]. We also discussed the long hours required by private law firms and the difficulty women lawyers have faced, referencing a recently released CNN documentary “RGB” about Ruth Bader Ginsberg.[vi]Truth being stranger than fiction, we couldn’t help but draw parallels between The Whistler and the FBI investigation into supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh last week; and even the drunken, high-school party charges that paralleled the incident in our July book club selection, Beartown.
We discussed very little of the Native-American aspect of the book – casinos, tribe membership, law or leaders—and we got off track a few times. Although I enjoyed the gathering as always, there was a lackluster feel to the discussion that mirrored the book. Or perhaps that was just my impression. One of us hadn’t finished the book, but even after the discussion, she still intends to finish it. And I am considering re-reading an old Grisham favorite (mine or someone else’s!) The days are finally getting cooler, with a briskness in the air that should invigorate us for our next selection: This Is How It Always Is, a fiction book about family, secrets, parenting choices, and a transgender child. I hope you will join us.
- OTHER WORKS DISCUSSED:
- Beartown (2017) by Fredrik Backman
- Hell or High Water (2016 DVD)
- Nature Girl (2006) by Carl Hiaasen
- Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide for Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (2016) by Thomas L. Friedman
- FAVORITE JOHN GRISHAM TITLES:
- The Client (1993)
- The Innocent Man (2006) Non-fiction
- The Pelican Brief (1992)
- The Rainmaker (1995)
- The Runaway Jury (1996)
- A Time to Kill (1989)
[i]“The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.” Web accessed 10-11-18: https://www.innocenceproject.org/about/
[ii]Lundquist, P. (n.d.). Whistler (Grisham) – Discussion Questions. http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/fiction/10860-whistler-grisham?start=3. Web accessed 10-11-18.
[iii]Wilmoth, M. J. (n.d.). National Whistleblower Center. https://www.whistleblowers.org/meet-the-whistleblowers/934-bradley-birkenfeld. Web accessed 10-11-18.
[iv]Edward Snowden is a former National Security Agency subcontractor who made headlines in 2013 when he leaked top secret information about NSA surveillance activities. https://www.biography.com/people/edward-snowden-21262897. Web accessed 10-11-18
[v]Daniel Ellsberg strengthened public opposition to the Vietnam War in 1971 when he leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. https://www.biography.com/people/daniel-ellsberg-17176398. Web accessed 10-11-18.
[vi]Biskupic, J. (2018, August 13). The making of a judicial phenomenon: Ruth Bader Ginsburg marks 25 years on the bench. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/10/politics/ruth-bader-ginsburg-25th-anniversary-supreme-court-notorious-rbg/index.html. Web accessed 10-11-18.