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.