And now, without further ado, a review!

That’s right, a real, live book review!  It’s been so long since I’ve reviewed a book that I feel like I’m back in high school.  Okay, maybe college.  Actually, that might very well be the last time I gave a proper book review like I’m fixing to give right here.

Yeah, I said “fixing to.”  It happens.

Anyway, my book club met Saturday night and I was unable to make it to the meeting – again – so I decided that, since I couldn’t share my thoughts on the wonderful book we read with my book club ladies, I’d share them all with you! The book we read for January was Defending Jacob by William Landay and, while it was not a book I’d have normally read, I really enjoyed it.

The book follows Assistant District Attorney Andrew Barber as he investigates the murder of a local teenager, one of his son Jacob’s classmates.  When Jacob is later arrested and charged with the crime, Andy’s life falls apart.  As the investigation proceeds, he struggles to hold together his marriage and realizes how little he actually knows his son.  It’s part crime novel, part lit fic, and entirely enjoyable.

Set in Newton, Massachusetts in 2007 and 2008, this is the first book I’ve read that makes use of social media.  Terms like Facebook and iPod are thrown out left and right, as they are part of the characters’ everyday lives – as they are part of our lives.  But since I’ve been so terrible about reading lately and since so much of what I do read is either not contemporary or was written well before the age of social media and modern mobile devices, it was startling to see such things so casually mentioned.  Of course, such things have also changed the way I read – I noticed as I read that, devout lover of dead-tree books that I am, I really missed the highlight function on my Kindle app and as a result, I kept reaching for my phone so that I could make notes on passages that I found funny, insightful, moving, or otherwise noteworthy and, believe me, there were plenty.

But by the time I was three-fourths of the way through the book, I stopped making notes of things and just read.  The story was so compelling and I was being pulled along so quickly that I didn’t have the time to notice the beautiful prose that was slipping past my eyes and beneath my fingers with every turn of the page.  And make no mistake, the prose was beautiful.  For example:

She quivered with hatred like a tuning fork.  -Andy, concerning Joan Rifkin, whose son Jacob was accused of killing, p. 217

At 51, love was a quieter experience.  We drifted through the days together.  But we both remembered how it all started, and even now, in the middle of my middle age, when I think of that shining young girl, I still feel a little thrill of first love, still there, still burning like a pilot light.  -Andy, p. 26

There was so much truth in this book that I still keep thinking about it, even though it’s been almost a week since I finished reading it.  Chapter 17, entitled “Nothing’s Wrong with Me!”, really spoke to me.  The chapter describes how Jacob, whose Facebook account was frozen after the DA subpoenaed records of everything he’d posted, sets up a new Facebook account and after behaving well for a period of time, finally slips up and posts something that he shouldn’t have.  When Andy sees it, it being a picture of Norman Bates with Jacob’s head Photoshopped in, he goes nuts, convinced that the prosecution will use it to bury his son.  Naturally, an argument ensues and Andy loses his cool.

The reason the chapter stuck out to me is because I can see the whole thing playing out.  It reminds me of a line from Time Enough for Drums.  At the end of the book, Jemima is visiting her father’s grave and she tells him that she wished he were there to help her children learn how to handle the freedom they’ve just won for themselves (from England – the book is set during the American Revolution).  We’re facing something similar right now with the internet.  Maybe we’ll always be facing this issue; I don’t know.  But Andy attempts to drive home the point that once you post something online, there is no deleting it – just because you hit the delete button on Facebook does not mean that it goes away.  And while I can hear the anger, the fear, the exasperation in Andy’s voice, I can also hear the annoyance in Jacob’s, the teenage superiority.  The author captured the moment so well that I began to wonder if he doesn’t have teenagers himself.  One of my favorite lines of the book came from this chapter and it was in reference to the nature of the internet:

The Web is a prosecutor’s fantasy…It is a wire planted inside everyone’s head.  -Andy, p. 188

But probably my favorite line of the book came from Chapter 25.  The trial is just beginning and the chapter opens with a description of Judge Burton French, a man we are told is likely the only judge the residents of the county would recognize on sight because he frequently appears on television.  The description is quite lengthy, but there is one part of it that I found amusing, and this was it:

What made all this so unbearable to the lawyers who gathered to gossip before the First Session every morning or over lunch at the Cinnabon in the Galleria food court was that Judge French’s gruff no-bullshit attitude was itself pure bullshit.  The man who presented himself in public as the embodiment of The Law, they thought, was in reality a publicity seeker, an intellectual lightweight, and in the courtroom a petty tyrant.  Which made him the perfect embodiment of The Law, when you really thought about it.  -Andy, p. 249

Again with the truth. 🙂

I also found a lot in this book that I could relate to.  Now I’ve never known someone who was accused of murder (at least, not that I’m aware of, anyway) and I’m not married to a lawyer, nor am I one myself, but I do work for one and I have for the last seven years.  Not that that has anything to do with anything.  Anyway, I found in Andy a very relatable protagonist.  He grew up without a father and determined that his own children would never know what that felt like; I grew up without my mother and determined the same thing.  I’m sure I’ve made many mistakes, just as Andy did, but hopefully my story will turn out better in the end than his.  I could relate to him as a spouse, as someone who has been married and who knows how much it hurts to feel that connection you share with a person slipping away.  I was so hopeful that things would work out for Andy and Laurie in the end; after all they went through together, they deserved some happiness.

I related to him as a parent, as well.  As a parent, we want nothing more than to see our children safe, happy, and successful.  In Andy’s case, he wanted to see his son as normal, as different from his ancestors as possible, and thus was blinded to the truth.  I’m sure I have my own very large blind spots when it comes to my children.  After all, people tend to think their children are perfect darlings a good 85% of the time, right?  At least?  So Andy was no different from you or I or anyone else in that regard.  He saw what he wanted to see.

But he was also aware that his son was his weakness.  He may not have wanted to admit it, even to himself, but he did say that children make their parents vulnerable.  That vulnerability cost Andy a lot in the end.

The last thing I found myself relating to was Andy as a damaged child.  Andy grew up without a father because his dad was serving a life sentence for murder.  His grandfather and great-grandfather were also violent criminals, and Andy was determined – nay, hell-bent – on avoiding their fate.  He wanted to save Jacob from that fate, too, which is part of the reason that he was so blind to his son’s faults.  Now, I don’t have criminal relatives, but I do have close relatives who made some seriously questionable life choices and who, as a result, I have worked very hard to avoid being compared to.  It was a treat to read about someone else who faced the same challenges.

And now, because I’m tired and it’s nearing midnight, one more truth from the book:

We didn’t criticize each other’s kids.  Nice people don’t do that, except behind each other’s backs.  -Laurie, p. 142

I laughed out loud at that line.  It’s just so, so true, and that’s what makes it so, so funny.  Anyone in a small town will tell you the same thing.  It reminds me of Ferengi Rule of Acquisition No. 48: The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife. 🙂

I know – my brain makes weird connections when I’m tired.

That probably means I should stop yapping and get some sleep.  If you made it to the end of this review, yay!  Thank you for reading my late-night ramble.  Defending Jacob really is an excellent book; I highly recommend you check it out.  If you do, or if you’ve read it already, let me know what you think in the comments!  I’m always up for a good book discussion.

And now, good night.  Sweet dreams; sleep tight.  Don’t let the bed bugs bite.

(c) 2013.  All rights reserved.


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