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The Associate (Hardcover)

Product Description
If you thought Mitch McDeere was in trouble in The Firm, wait
until you meet Kyle McAvoy, The Associate

Kyle McAvoy grew up in his father’s small-town law office in York, Pennsylvania. He excelled in college, was elected editor-in-chief of The Yale Law Journal, and his future has limitless potential.

But Kyle has a secret, a dark one, an episode from college that he has tried to forget. The secret, though, falls into the hands of the wrong people, and Kyle is forced to take a job he doesn’t want—even though it’s a job most law students can only dream about.

Three months after leaving Yale, Kyle becomes an associate at the largest law firm in the world, where, in addition to practicing law, he is expected to lie, steal, and take part in a scheme that could send him to prison, if not get him killed.

With an unforgettable cast of characters and villains—from Baxter Tate, a drug-addled trust fund kid and possible rapist, to Dale, a pretty but seemingly quiet former math teacher who shares Kyle’s “cubicle” at the law firm, to two of the most powerful and fiercely competitive defense contractors in the country—and featuring all the twists and turns that have made John Grisham the most popular storyteller in the world, The Associate is vintage Grisham.

About the Author

JOHN GRISHAM has written twenty previous novels and one work of nonfiction, The Innocent Man, published in 2006. He lives in Virginia and Mississippi.

Grisham's Question -- Who Is Bennie? - Lands with a THUD, January 27, 2009
By J. A. Walsh (Boston, MA, USA)


If the title question is enough to keep you reading, then "The Associate" should hold your interest and attention, but if you want more, you'll need to look elsewhere because Grisham doesn't deliver much more than that question as a dramatic catalyst in his newest effort.

Sure, there's not a lot wrong with "The Associate" from some perspective. As popcorn legal thrillers go, Grisham strikes all the right notes (big money firm, incessant rehashing of the junior associate workload, mysterious baddies, altruistic but conflicted protagonist), he just strikes them all hollowly.

Briefly, just as Kyle McAvoy is set to finish at the top of his Yale Law class and head out into the public service world for a few years of giving back before heading to Wall Street to rake it in, his past comes back to haunt him when the mysterious "Bennie" holds an ominous sword of Damocles over his brilliant head. To keep the blade from dropping, Kyle must agree to accept a job at a white shoe New York firm that is representing a defense contractor in an $800B patent action over a piece of emerging aerospace technology, and serve as Bennie's man on the inside, feeding confidential information back to the blackmailer and compromising his client, his career and his integrity.

But, who is Bennie? That's the mystery driving the novel, and even as Kyle unravels a laboriously-paced strategy to answer just that question, Grisham never really fills in enough of the blanks to make Bennie's anonymity compelling enough to drive the plot. Is he working for the other side in the litigation? Is he representing a foreign government (the Israelis for example, who were in a joint venture with DoD and the private contractors on the development of this new bomber)? These questions get cursory mention throughout the book, but are never threshed out.

Grisham spends a lot more time on Kyle's day-to-day life in the firm than seems warranted. If he wasn't going to rely on the genre-tested designated baddies like the Mob (The Firm/The Client), international intelligence and assassins (The Pelican Brief), or another ready-made villain, then he needed to spend some time delving into Bennie, the forces behind him and the sources of his seemingly limitless power, money and inside info. The narrative picks up some steam about two-thirds of the way through when one of Kyle's college frat buddies (a recovering alcoholic whose story was actually one of the more interesting character development efforts Grisham made) is found shot in the head, execution-style, in a highway rest area mens' room. In one sense, the hit is disappointing, Grisham kills off one of the more developed and compelling characters; but, he does seem to pick up some welcome steam here, too. Immediately after, Kyle is thrown headlong into the litigation battle at the center of the book along with having a heightened urgency around his dealings with Bennie> He finally begins to fight back against the implausibly gripping blackmail against him by bringing his family in and hiring a pugnacious white collar criminal defense attorney, another promising character who just arrives as too little, too late. This is a pivot point that marks more of a return to the frenetic pacing of early Grisham, but its still pretty flat for frenetic. "Michael Clayton" may have been able to bring corporate espionage to compelling life, but, here Grisham never does.


Sure, most of Grisham's past work has centered around "Big Business" as the ultimate culprit: the ones driving the assassins to kill Supreme Court justices in Pelican; the forces behind jury-fixing and cigarette justice in The Runaway Jury; and the anti-democratic backroom politicking in "The Appeal;" but, in those works he filled the landscape in with compelling background and depth: Supreme Court politics, assassins, Mobsters, race, the death penalty.

The sad fact is that no matter how much Grisham clearly wants us to draw an alternative conclusion, law firm life and white collar crime just aren't that compelling or implicitly nefarious - certainly not enough to drive a successful "legal thriller," the genre that Grisham helped create with the early success of those books mentioned above (plus, The Client [mob/FBI], A Time to Kill [race, murder, the KKK], and The Chamber [race, death penalty]). If Grisham isn't willing to exploit the instant dramatic effect of these kinds of grand topics, then he needs to do the hard work himself on developing compelling conflict and a dramatic momentum. In "The Associate," he never does.

I think the decision shows a continued trend in Grisham toward a more political, less-commercially-oriented style that doesn't want to lose what needs to be said in the way he says it. "The Appeal," and Grisham's recent nonfiction work, "The Innocent Man," began the shift that continues to play out here.

Also, its obvious that Grisham's life has changed, and those changes are evident in the book. The opening scene paints a vivid picture of a youth basketball league game, complete with the kind of dank and dusty gym that anyone who is involved in their kids' youth sports will instantly recognize as authentic and imbued with experience. It is the kind of scene he used to paint of law students, professors, young associates and G-Men in his early work (i.e., the Chinese food celebration scene early in "The Firm") that so accurately captured that milieu, and its evidence that where he's writing what he knows, the talent is still there. But, it was the creative flourishes, the plot development and the character composition that made successes of those early books. He was never Dickens, but for a mass-market NTY Bestseller, the books always delivered.

Here, he has more trouble. Maybe there isn't a lot of argument against his presentation of NYC megafirms as slavishly and single-mindedly committed to the six-minute increment, but they are not actually set pieces. The lawyers and secretaries and sandwich boys may be ripe for caricature; but they are not caricatures. These firms do have heartbeats; and, Scully & Pershing has none of the personality (or personalities) of Bendini, Lambert & Locke. The firm is a dead zone, the partners we do know are flat, and even Kyle, his friends and family and the other associates just fill in check boxes on the novelist's card. The driven Harvard man has none of the depth of Mitch McDeere; the love interest never acquires the significance of Thomas Callahan, and the thrice-divorced supervising partner doesn't take on any of the character of Avery Tolar.

And, right through to the end, Grisham never delivers and the book feels - it feels a little unfair to say this, but this is how it feels - like the product of a need to make a publication date on a multi-book contract.

All in all, I would say approach "The Associate" warily and probably approach it in paperback. Tide yourself over in the meantime with the recent paperback release of "The Appeal," and temper your hopes for when you do read the new one. If you're expecting a quick reading pop legal thriller to pass the time on the train, Grisham's probably got you covered; but, if you're hoping for the crackling, guilty pleasure, up-all-night reading of "The Firm" or "The Pelican Brief," this is a disappointment.

JAW

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