Sunday, June 23, 2013

Let's talk about Jacob

I feel like I need to make a disclaimer. Yes, I've been a little psychologically prone lately. Meaning subject of the human mind has been immensely intriguing to me. And yes I have been a bit more partial to children's mind. Which is why Defending Jacob by William Landay seemed like the perfect book for me at this point in time. It's been on all possible lists and recommendation sites and critics loved it. I'm also always up for a good courtroom drama so I was game.

Without losing much time about the plot itself, let me tell you about Andy Barber, an assistant DA, respected in his small town, ruthless prosecutor, always chasing down bad guys. He has a happy family, a wife Laurie and a teenage son, a fourteen year old boy Jacob who becomes the prime suspect of a horrifying crime involving the murder of Jacob's fellow student. Andy's taken off the case and for the first time in his life finds himself on the other side of the court fence. And defending Jacob is something he will do, no matter what. And that is basically the gist of the story. Apart from the fact that Andy is hiding a terrible family secret he hasn't even told his wife. A secret that might unlock Jacob's mind. Or not.

Whatever it will do, it won't change the fact that throughout this story you shouldn't expect to get inside Jacob's mind. Not even to observe him. Call this a spoiler if you will but Andy Barber never questions Jacob. He doesn't deliberate whether his child did this. He doesn't ask him. Hell, the book is written from his perspective and he is more than willing to just defend the boy, turn a blind eye (or two), cover his ears with his palms and sing lalala. To the extent where I was following the statements of certain witnesses, just dying for the author to describe any kind of reaction from Jacob. Was he pissed off, was he upset, did he smile or did he not care at all? We never know. Because it doesn't matter to Andy and this book is written in the first person, so it's a father's account. When it comes down to it he is willing to do practically anything to keep him safe. And when Jacob once or twice says he didn't do it, Andy sets on the path of no return. All the while his wife is having trouble, going back and forth on Jacob's guilt and innocence. As evidence mounts, their marriage is slowly becoming less and less strong and the trial stronger and stronger. 

"At some point as adults we we cease to be our parents'
children and we become our children's parents instead."

So how well do we really know our children and what goes on in their daily lives? Again it turns out - not so much. And then another shocking event can turn everything you thought you knew completely around. 

Let's leave aside the fact that this book screams movie. And that it reads as if it was written for that. The fact of the matter it is, it doesn't need 400 pages. About a hundred less would do easily. Don't expect some strange ending like in The Pact or a thoroughly detailed story of a teenager's mind. Perhaps I was hoping for the latter more than the former. The ending is supposedly a big shock but if you can pick up on all those clues that Andy mentions how they're a sign (I guess to make readers go on), you'll know halfway through the book what it's going towards. The surprise for me was more what eventually triggered the ending. And if the author feels the need to mention future developments that are horrifying in every chapter (and, mind, make them very, very dramatic), it's never a good sign.

What was a little bit disturbing was that the author (or Andy) keeps referring to Before and After (the event). Which is the title of a 1996 movie starring Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep. Whose son is Edward Furlong, or Jacob (?!) who is accused of murdering his girlfriend. In shape of this second Jacob, we get redemption and truth (or at least a version of it) and although in a poor shape of a TV movie (Meryl is saving this movie's ass big time!), at least you find out what happened. I admit, sometimes it's good to not know. To keep the reader or audience guessing. But in an ambiguous, not in a vague manner. So in short, this book sort of pissed me off. I liked the ambition of psychological approach. I just wish it was met.

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