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The Associate

Once again, a Grisham protagonist finds himself caught up in the machinations of a corrupt law firm.

By Erik Spanberg / February 21, 2009



Kyle McAvoy was born in a small town. And he’ll probably die in a small town. But first he must survive the hamster wheel known as Manhattan lawyering.

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As John Grisham peer Stephen King once noted, people love to read about work. Sadly, it’s true – and Grisham’s latest novel, The Associate, can be seen as yet one more proof of that statement.

As made clear by Grisham’s twisting morality plays disguised as thrillers, workers of all ranks have an insatiable appetite to see their world – or one similar to it – rendered in dramatic terms.

Who can resist? After all, wouldn’t a work day be infinitely more interesting if every memo you read, every e-mail you sent, every trip to the copier sent ripples through Wall Street and the White House? (Perhaps bankers and mortgage lenders have become all too familiar with such a possibility in recent months. For the rest of us, though, the notion still enchants.)

Grisham long ago mastered the difficult art of pulling a narrative tauter and tauter as the pages breeze by, but “The Associate” centers as much on office politics, nagging cellphones, malicious copiers, and inveterate backstabbing as anything else.

When it comes to Kyle McAvoy, protagonist of “The Associate,” the career and life lesson Grisham hammers home is one of his favorites: Small towns good, cutthroat big cities bad.

Sure, it’s more than a bit hackneyed, but watching Grisham move his characters around the board overwhelms all other concerns. (Yes, even Rockwellian notions of eating at the local diner and being a “good lawyer” who provides counseling in exchange for seasonal fruits and vegetables. As Dave Barry would say, I’m not making this up. But Grisham must be.)

No matter. At the opposite end of the scales of justice, it’s still fun to believe that corporate lawyers who earn $200,000 to start, and several times as much within a few years, are as miserable as anyone else.
Or, as Kyle puts it, “I want to be a partner so I can sleep until 5:00 a.m. every day until I die at fifty. That’s what I want.” Not to mention the pressures of passing the bar, billing a minimum of 2,000 hours a year, and honing much-needed skills as a sycophant.

But this being Grisham, much bigger problems loom for our young legal associate.

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