Grisham’s “The Appeal” Is Denied
I think I know why Grisham continues to be a best-selling author, and it has almost nothing to do with the glowing reviews he can get from the New York Times.
Rather, I think the problem is his fan base liked his earlier works and continue to search in the vain hope that his latest pile of literary “effort” would be of that same quality. They keep giving him second chances, and third chances, and fourth chances.
Quite unlike how Grisham himself never seems to resort to second drafts, or third drafts, or fourth drafts, as was made abundantly clear to me after reading his 2008 novel “The Appeal”.
I had read another recent work of his, “The King of Torts”, and thought it was an okay read, and the writing showed he knows the craft, but that the plot just kind of ended after a year of the main character’s life in mass tort litigation, which his first major case overwith. None of the ominous villains were ever dealt with, really, and there didn’t seem to be too much to be concerned about with the protagonist’s career at a low point. It felt like reading a biography, done as a pretense for explaining how the mass tort system works.
*Warning – May Contain Spoliers*
Likewise, in “The Appeal”, you get the sense that what really mattered to Grisham was to show how an election can be bought, and to leave the reader outraged by it at the end. How else can you explain the obvious characterization of the victims and of the unlikable Wall Street hustler who only cares about his net worth and not handing over a dime to his victims?
In normal literature, though, you don’t end the novel feeling like the character who won the election still has unresolved issues with his seriously injured son (and his surprisingly stubborn refusal to let that change his views), or that the made-obvious criminal behavior would go unchecked, or that many of the cast of characters introduced early in the book are virtually forgotten about or discard at its end without any thought.
It’s as if Grisham spent a lot of effort to create a mileu for its election drama, but felt too exhausted after the election to really finish up the plot the way first-time novelists are taught to do by their professors, agents, or editors.
And the first two chapters were plain awful – a terrible hodgepodge of information and a cast of dozens (most of whom were ultimately unimportant), include the driver for the evil CEO whose main contribution to the story is to reinforce the idea that the CEO is a jerk and his employees know it.
Never mind that throughout the novel (but particularly early on), Grisham violates the rule of a narrator (keep to one character’s head per scene, and don’t break scenes only to continue the exact same expository line of thought in the second scene). He also does “expository dumps” to avoid create scenes where characters interact and discover information. He even avoids filling out a speech, even as he spends a page or two saying what the character was delivering (without actually showing it, despite the detail he gives).
In the parts he should expand, he rushes through, and on scenes or events that end up being inconsequential, he puts too much time and emphasis. And I stopped counting the number of Chekhov’s Guns he left on the table (including the plainly obvious accounts of ballot-stuffing).
This book honestly reads like a first draft – and that the publishing industry felt just having his name on a book would be good enough to make a profit, so they wasted no time or salary on an editor for him. Some of the same can be said of J.K. Rowling’s Potter books after she became a mega-celebrity and her books doubled or tripled in length.
He suckered me in at least twice on books with an interesting premise on the back cover. But I’m almost to the point of wondering whether I should read any celebrity author any more – because they annoying ignore the rules of crafting novels and rake in millions for it when new authors like me can’t get our foot in the door unless we’re already published (which ironically can’t happen until you have a foot in the door).
Count me frustrated and disappointed.