I've read all of John Grisham's books, at least all those that have come out in paperback (Grisham is not an author I buy in hardcover). I've even read The Pelican Brief, his worst novel, which has a silly plot and cardboard characters. With the exception of The Pelican Brief, I have found Grisham's novels enjoyable and he seems to be getting better over time. I thought that The Chamber, with its complex characters and blurred moral boundaries was excellent.
Grisham's latest novel to hit paperback is The Rainmaker. The novel's central character, Rudy Baylor, a new graduate of Memphis State Law School. Memphis State is not a top law school and Rudy is a good, but not great student. Instead of a fast ticket to the upper middle class, Rudy finds that his law degree offers few employment opportunities. The job market for lawyers is bleak. In the end he is driven into association with a mob lawyer and an ambulance chaser. This is a far cry from the world of L.A. Law, where lawyers work on challenging cases while wearing designer suits. Perhaps if popular culture included fewer stories about heroic lawyers in Armani suits fighting the good fight, and more stories like The Rainmaker, there would be fewer lawyers.
One of the last classes that Rudy takes before graduation is "Geezer Law" (Legal Problems of the Elderly). While visiting a senior citizen's center, Rudy meets Dot Black, whose son, Donny Ray, has terminal leukemia. The Blacks have a medical insurance policy which should have covered a bone marrow transplant from Donny Ray's twin brother. This would have saved Donny's life, but the insurance company denied coverage. Now it is too late and the cancer has reached a terminal stage. There is no question that this is a case of bad faith on the part of the insurance company, Great Benefit. Rudy takes the case and sues, going up against a high priced law firm.
Grisham's story of David versus Goliath is well written. Stories like this are always a lot of fun. We may dislike lawyers, but we dislike insurance companies even more. The reader quickly feels that Rudy is a real person, with strenghts and weaknesses. The other characters are also well drawn and Grisham avoids stereotyping them. The book is, as they say on the cover blurbs, a page turner. I ripped right through it and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are flaws as well. A romantic interest is grafted on to the plot. Her character serves little purpose in the story. A cynic might believe that Grisham added her with an eye toward the movie that will almost certainly be made from the book.
While the story is enjoyable, I have to wonder how factual the details are. A couple of months ago I read Jonathan Harr's book A Civil Action, which is an account of an actual law suit brought against the W.R. Grace Company, which poisoned the drinking water of a small town, Woburn, Massachusetts. A number of children and adults died of leukemia here too. In this case, a suit was brought by a fairly established and experienced trial lawyer. But it was an up hill battle all the way, which took years to resolve. In the end, the plaintiffs were forced to settle the suit out of court and the financial and emotional costs were huge. The plaintiff's lawyer was almost bankrupted by the cost of the suit and was emotionally burned out by the time it was finally settled. It is hard to imagine a broke, newly minted lawyer, like Rudy Baylor in The Rainmaker, having the resources to sue a large company.
Ian Kaplan - 2/96
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