“The Associate” by John Grisham

Good books don’t necessarily have to provide all the answers to every plot thread introduced into them. We want our characters to feel like they have lives beyond the confines of the printed page and that their story exists before, during and after the book we’re reading. But a good book should at least provide the reader with some sense of closure and not the feeling like an editor was standing over the writer, pointing out that he or she had x-number of pages left or he or she was slowly reaching the word count for the novel and that wrapping up the book soon would be a good idea. There should be some sense of closure, not just a sense of wrapping things up.

There’s a distinct lack of closure to John Grisham’s new novel.

“The Associate” spents 275 pages setting up the situation Kyle McAvoy faces. Years ago, his roommates at a frat party took advantage of a young woman, while she may or may not have been passed out. The young girl had a reputation and when she tried to press charges for rape, the investigation hit a quick dead end and the matter was dropped. Or so it would appear. While Kyle wasn’t one of the participants, he was in the room when it happened. Now, years later video from a camera phone has surfaced in the hands of men who want Kyle to do thier bidding. He is to accept a job with a high-prestige law firm and spy on them for these men.

This mysterious group seems to have their fingers in a lot of pies an a lot of power, though it’s never explained why or if they’re manipulating certain aspects of Kyle’s life and that of his friends. They hold the tape over Kyle’s head throughout the story, saying that while it may not lead to charges it will certainly ruin the life of Kyle and his friends.

Kyle is pressed into service in an impossible situation and slowly begins to try and find a way out of it. By reading spy novels, he routinely sheds those tailing him and begins to slowly fight back, forming a plan of his own. Meanwhile, he’s got the soulless first year job at a law firm and maybe a connection with a fellow female associate.

It’s a lot to take in and Grisham does a nice job of keeping the plot moving for the first 300 or so pages. But it’s right around a huge turning point in the novel that things slowly being to unravel. I won’t say the turning point, but if you’ve read the book, you can probably peg it. It involves one of the group of the accused who went to Hollywood seeking his fame and fortune. Suddenly, things kick into a different gear and Kyle makes some decisions. These are things that could and should change the story and ratchet things into a higher gear, adding to the suspense and making the pages turn faster. And they do…except these things all happen 30 or so pages before the novel ends.

And the novel just wraps up. In one of the more unsatisfying endings I’ve read in a while, Grisham just finishes the story. In the end, justice isn’t really served and you can see how Grisham is trying to create a morally ambigious ending, but yet it just doesn’t feel satisfying. Kyle isn’t a purely innocent character, but it’d be nice if it felt like some or any of the bad guys got what was coming to them in the end. Instead, it’s one of those–hey, life sucks but what are you going to do? endings that left me frustrated and wondering where the rest of the book was.

We could at least know that Kyle got the girl or something. A hint, anything besides what we go.

And that’s a shame. Because Grisham works hard in creating Kyle and allowing us to identify with him and feel sympathy for him as the net closes in around him.

This could have been great Grisham. Instead it’s just mediocre Grisham

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