Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book 135: Defending Jacob

Andy Barber, the novel's narrator, used to be the assistant district attorney in his community until his fourteen year old son Jacob was implicated in a murder he plans to try.  Given his obvious conflict of interest, Andy is put on sabbatical or suspension as his family must deal with the repercussions.
As the novel progresses, Andy's family history comes back to haunt him, even though he has been avoiding his family's past for years.  The parts of the novel that I found most interesting were the ones where Andy explains the legal process and what goes on behind the scenes.  It becomes clear very quickly that simply being suspected or accused of a crime is enough to ruin a family and a life, especially if the family isn't rich to begin with.  The loss of income and job alone have a huge impact on a family's finances and that doesn't even address the costs of a defense laywer, and whatever professional witnesses are used.  Andy also makes the case that the system is less reliable than believed since the officers and lawyers soon focus on one specific scenario and find the witnesses and evidence that back it up.
Despite all these failures in the system, I was not at very convinced by Andy's case for his son.  Andy loves his son, unquestioningly, but that also means he isn't the most reliable narrator.  Or actually, it's less a matter of reliability or trustworthiness since he isn't trying to mislead the reader - he is trying to convince himself, or is in true denial about even the possibility of his son's involvement.  He believes he knows who the killer is, and like the legal system he presents to the reader, he will not look at any other evidence.
I thought the things that the novel portrayed about the legal system were fascinating, and Landay did a good job of portraying a family on the verge of collapse.  In the end the novel doesn't care about guilt or innocence, and while I certainly have my own beliefs, this book is much more than a whodunit, and much more of an analysis of family and the law.  While the novels are nothing alike, The Dinner also explores the idea of how much a parent should believe in their child or protect the child.  I had a huge issue with the parents in The Dinner because they knew their child was guilty and protected him anyway.  In Andy's mind, that question never enters his mind.  A parent that can believe no wrong of their child is certainly a problem but at least it's not nearly as reprehensible as one who would protect a murderer from all consequences.

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