Earlier this week, I saw a preview for a new TV show coming out: Defending Jacob. It featured Michelle Dockery (Mary from Downton Abbey) as the mother, and the story looked interesting. A fourteen-year-old boy is accused of killing a classmate. His parents want to believe he’s innocent and steadfastly defend him, but of course there’s always a doubt in your mind. Beyond that, there’s the reaction of everyone around them – the hoards of press, the court trials, the graffiti on their house, etc. It seemed like a fascinating-if-gruesome psychological story, even better in book form.
The show was based on the book (same title) by William Landay. He’s not an author I was familiar with, and I’d read none of his books before. Confession: I tend to avoid male authors in modern fiction, particularly anything of the literary or thriller areas, because of certain trends that often go through their writing. I’m not anti-male-author or anything like that – in fact, most of my favorite authors are male – but there are particular quirks of writing that I see too frequently, and so gravitate toward non-male authors. (Notably, there are certain quirks of writing I see too often with modern female writers, too, and I tend to avoid those authors or genres that use them frequently. They just happen to appear more in genres I avoid anyway.) Anyway, the story for Defending Jacob was interesting enough that I put myself on the ebook hold at my library.
Friday, the book became available. I downloaded it and began to read. Right away, I was hooked. The story was fascinating. I didn’t really like the frame story back-and-forth – that’s often just not my favorite technique – but it wasn’t too bad. Those male-writing quirks? Definitely all present, unfortunately. The way the narrator described his wife and her friends, the self-indulgent masculinity, the arrogant navel-gazing, etc. But it was a much more subtle version of it than I often see, and the story itself was interesting enough for me to ignore the parts of the writing I disliked. Until I came to this line:
Seriously. “Try as I might to penetrate her, by talking, kissing, stabbing myself into her” – WTF? Was that meant to be clever? Because it feels like it was meant to be clever. Bleagh.
Anyway. I’d actually planned to read past this, but the line was just so bad that I had to share it with Jason and my online book group. Jason didn’t know what book I was reading, looked up the characters, and found Defending Jacob. He read the Wikipedia summary, which of course had the full plot, and was really surprised that I was reading the book. He expressed his surprise, and a warning bell went off in my head. Because that description I gave in the beginning? That’s exactly the kind of book that I’d read, and Jason would know that. Clearly something happens at a point beyond where I’d read that Jason thought I would highly dislike.
He didn’t want to give me any spoilers. I thought about things that might happen in the book that would make me dislike it and want to abandon it at the point I was at. I mentioned those particular things. Turns out, one of those things did indeed happen in the book. So I asked Jason to tell me the entire spoilery plot, and then I read the Wiki article for myself. That confirmed it – I did not want to read the rest of Defending Jacob.
The part that I read – probably around 40-50% – was actually really good if I ignored the writing quirks that drove me crazy and the awful line I highlighted above. The story was good. But I’m glad I had some forewarning, because if I’d read the entire book, I’d have had another really negative review to post here. I think other people might really enjoy this book. The ending just hit on one of my personal dislikes (not just in books, but stories in any form). Everyone has their particular pet peeves in books, and this one hit on mine. So yeah, I’m writing about the book because 1) I’m frustrated that I still haven’t been able to find a book to read and love since early February, and 2) I think other people might really love this book and I thought it deserved blog time despite my abandonment.
Now I’m back to the drawing board. I literally have no books right now (physical or virtual) that I want to read. Even those that I want to read eventually don’t sound appealing at the moment. Quarantine is a really bad time to have a book slump!! Anyone have any good suggestions?
PS – This book takes place in Newton, MA, which is where my family lived in 2014-2015. Both this book and the folks in Newton seemed to feel that Newton was “like a small town,” which just shows that none of those folks have ever lived in an actual small town. Newton was like a giant suburb city with multiple divisions (there were five “towns” with different names inside Newton!) and as much crime as you’d expect in a super-rich, posh area that snubbed their noses at outsiders and anyone they considered beneath them. The romanticism of the area boggles my mind. That place was awful.