Thursday, June 2, 2016

Identical - Scott Turow (2013)

One day I was coming back from a run, or a return trip to the library, or something, and I passed the "take a book, leave a book" box at Kedzie Ave. and Logan Blvd.  I looked inside and saw this book and thought, "that would be a good thing to review now."  I took it home with me and later brought a book from my shelf, Riders on the Storm, about the Doors, and left it at the box for good karma.  Now perhaps, I will need to go out of my way to find Riders on the Storm to read it, to assess whether or not this was truly a worthwhile trade.

Oeuvre rule: One L is the only other book I've read by Scott Turow, and it's immediately easy for me to say that One L is a much stronger book.  However, I wish I never read it.  I might have gone anyways, but it lent credence to the idea that I was doing the right thing, as a person who was inclined to view creative writing as his life's calling, going on to take a day job as a lawyer.  

In the event that this improbable eventuality occurs, I do not want to write the same types of books at Scott Turow.  Maybe this was just one of the weaker ones, I don't know, but this is basically a mass-market paperback to the T.  It's a bit similar to Triple Homicide, but my teacher was the author, so I was generally charitable.  But I would expect better from Turow.

So maybe I'll give him another shot, but I can't really recommend Identical.  There are some people that might like it, because it does feature a number of twists, but I really only kept turning the pages because I don't like to leave books uncompleted for the purpose of this blog.  I put this book down once to read Zero K and I had about fifty pages left so I decided to finish it before taking up Morrissey's autobiography.

I never really got into this book, but pages 200-300 probably went the quickest for me.  I didn't know who was going to be the protagonist for a long time, but I guess it ends up being Tim Brodie, who is about 81 years old and is a widowed, retired police officer turned private investigator.  Also, Evon, a lesbian former FBI agent turned head of security for a private corporation.  I read one Amazon review that compared this book to a soap opera, and I burst out laughing because that is kind of a perfect description of how ridiculous this plot is--less plausible than a soap opera.

But it is fairly interesting in its courtroom scenes, and it reminded me of reasons why I should just cut my losses and quit practicing law right now, like mean judges.

"'You know what I think?  I think he's a great judge, better than I ever believed he'd be, and I always thought he'd be pretty good.'  The problem in assessing who'd make a good judge was that the job called on a set of skills less important for practicing lawyers.  Smarts served you well in both lives.  But patience, civility, a sense of boundaries and balance were more dispensable for courtroom advocates." (209)

This passage really stung me when I read it because I had just gotten yelled at by a judge for reasons that I thought were totally unfair--there had been no patience or civility in the encounter.  Really, this whole section of the book with the courtroom scenes probably move the most swiftly.  I saw a review that said this was not one of Turow's more "courtroom-based" thrillers, and maybe that is why it felt a bit weak.

After the last pages, Turow adds "A Note About Sources," and it perhaps explains why so much of the book feels awkward and over the top and soap opera-like:

"A far more self-conscious inspiration for the novel came from what I had always taken as one of the most touching of the Greek myths, the story of the Gemini, Castor and Pollux.  The identical twins were said to have been born after their mother, Leda, Queen of Sparta, was raped by Zeus, who had taken the form of a swan to catch her unaware.  The myth has many variations, but one of the most common is that the sole difference between the twins was that Pollux was immortal, like his father, while Castor, like his mother, was not.  When Castor was fatally wounded, Pollux could not bear the loss and asked Zeus to let him share his immortality with his twin.  The brothers therefore alternated time in Hades and on Mount Olympus.  For those familiar with the myth, the parallels between it and my story should be plain, as is the fact that I did not allow the old tale to be any more than a fabric on which I did my own embroidery." (370)

What is the plot?  Paul and Cass (twins) are at a party in 1982 at the Kronons home.  Cass is going out with Dita, Zeus Kronon's daughter.  Paul kind of hates her.  That night she is killed.  Cass pleads guilty, goes to jail for 25 years, and gets released in 2008, when Paul is running for Mayor of Center City in Kindle County.  Hal Kronon, Dita's estranged brother, levels an accusation at Paul that he had something to do with Dita's murder, and Paul's advisers tell him to file a lawsuit for libel.

It just feels like a mass-market paperback rather than a piece of literary fiction.  It's not my preferred type of book, but I have faith that Turow has other stronger work in his oeuvre.

I don't really know if there's much more for me to say about it.  Overall, I didn't like it.  Certain parts were okay, and I didn't despise it, and I finished it.  And yes, by the end, I wanted to find out what really happened.  I cared about what really happened, but it was sort of predictable once a certain detail is revealed about Dita.  I must admit that Turow does a great job of keeping this "truth" elusive throughout the novel.  And it does make a bit more sense when one realizes he was using a Greek myth as a framework.

There were some nice details about Evon's crumbing relationship with Heather (though she feels incredibly underdeveloped in terms of details of her former partner that died--in great contrast to Tim, who feels overdeveloped) and these probably comprise the most compelling sections of the novel, along with the courtroom scenes:

"When Heather left to shower, Evon, who'd had far more to drink than usual, felt a stark mood shadow her heart.  Heather's talk of marriage, her regal demands, left Evon feeling how remote the chances were.  Her doubts had little to do with her skepticism about whether same-sex marriage would ever be legal in this state, or even whether she had shed enough of a closeted person's anxieties to be able to refer out loud to anyone as her 'wife.'  Something else concerned her, even if all the champagne made it impossible for her to be more precise.  It was a shock to find herself dubious, because the story of the relationship had been that she pursued Heather, put up with her, forgave her.  And it was true that she still craved Heather, loved her zany side and terrific sarcasm, and had touched something strong and good in herself by doting on her.  In the past several months she'd realized she was basically Heather's mother, which was not as bad a deal for Evon as putting it that way made it sound, because she enjoyed--no, relished--being a kinder, more patient and understanding person toward Heather than Evon's mother had been to her.  She wasn't prepared yet to give any of that up." (58-59)

Heather is about 12 years younger than Evon, and anyone that has been in relationship with such an age gap will understand that feeling expressed in the latter half of the paragraph (as I'm sure most people in same-sex relationships will understand the former half of the paragraph).  In moments like this, Turow can be great.  This is why I will definitely give him another shot.  Identical was just kind of a miss for me.  I don't regret reading it, but I wouldn't willingly subject myself to it a second time.

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