Thursday, 08 March, 2001
Book Review: The Brethren
It's amazing how fast you can read a popular novel if you have some uninterrupted time. It's also amazing how bad a best selling popular novel can be. I picked up John Grisham's The Brethren in the Philadelphia airport last night, and finished it just as we were landing in Austin. I'm not much of a popular fiction addict (although I do enjoy Stephen King's writing), so I haven't kept up with John Grisham's writing. I read A Time to Kill when it was published, and also The Pelican Brief, both of which I thought were excellent novels. How the mighty have fallen. The Brethren has none of the power of Grisham's earlier work. The only thing I found remarkable about the book was that it was a national bestseller. It seems that once a writer publishes a bestseller, anything else he publishes, no matter how terrible, automatically sells a million copies.
With maybe two exceptions (and those in very minor characters), every character in The Brethren is thoroughly disgusting human being. The "honest" Congressman turns out to be a typically amoral politician. The head of the CIA is of course a power hungry puppet master, and his agents will do anything for "the cause," regardless of its legality. Even the scam victims are portrayed as self-involved whiners who blame their personal and financial problems on everybody but themselves. Lawyers, police, women, lobbyists, bureaucrats, prison guards, you name it. Every character is a caricature. The book reads like a racial, sexist, and "jobist" stereotype. It's impossible to find a shred of empathy for any of the major characters, and few of the bit players. By the end of the novel, I was hoping that Grisham would find some way to kill all the characters off at once.
No protagonist. What a weird way to write a novel. I'm certain that it's a valid literary form, but I didn't enjoy it.