Recently I heard John Grisham’s The Racketeer as an audio book. It was quite similar to Grisham’s other book I’d heard, The Testament in its approach. No doubt about it, both books are mass-market fluff, with a twisty plot the only thing to keep reader interest. How did this book in particular, fail?
It failed to engage. If I wasn’t a captive audience, I’d have turned this off within ten minutes of hearing it, because it never excited my emotions or made me think.
The main character elicited no sympathy and wasn’t someone I could relate to. He was specific enough not to be cardboard, but not detailed enough to be interesting. This is because Grisham doesn’t describe things in any real detail. The book is flat throughout – depthless, descriptionless, the characters stock and uninteresting as people, just marionettes of the relentless plot.
Second, Grisham handles his themes about as delicately as a bull in a china shop. Each novel seems to feature a few major themes which he uses to clobber the reader over the head again and again. In this novel, we get that the main character loathes the federal government. Got it. We get that the RICO statue is abused. Got it. Then Grisham proceeds to remind us of this every twenty pages or so. Ugh.
Next, the novel is trite. Grisham seems to think that white racism is everywhere, and so the main character finds the stereotypical stupid white boy (who usually is a hick) everywhere. Oh yes, hicks are murderous. Nuclear power is bad. Leftists are for “the little guy”. These things are only true in rare cases, but they are part of the culture’s “received wisdom”. Grisham simply regurgitates these stale, false platitudes. There’s a scene where a woman “instinctively” strips to her panties to distract some hick’s friends. Do women instinctively do this? Only in the funhouse mirror world of popular culture they do.
Also, the novel doesn’t respect the reader. The reader is kept on tenterhooks because the writer keeps hiding important details. If the novel was written the way any normal person tells a story, it would be a quarter the length. The novel also keeps reminding us of the same basic information, as though Grisham expected people to read four chapters at a time and then return to the story. If he knew or expected this, why didn’t he write the novel to be more interesting, so that people would want to finish it in one setting? I guess that was too much effort. Grisham was dialing this one in and I suspect he’s been doing so for a long time. I say this because this novel, like the Testament, starts out well, and loses all sense of novelty after the first chapter.
Finally, the novel ends about as convincingly and interestingly as a fart in a wet paper bag. Because there’s no enduring theme here, all that matters is that the guy gets the girl, gets his revenge, and gets some money. That and the drug runners get to be the good guys. Why the immoral and boring main character gets any of this is a mystery to me, but there’s a market for childish revenge fantasies, and Grisham caters to it.
A book should be worth reading; it should elevate and ennoble you. The Racketeer does none of that. If anything, it will leave you feeling slightly slimy, cynical, and bored. Why bother with reading if that’s what you’re going to get? Just flip channels and in five minutes you can achieve the same effect with a lot less effort.