Monday, April 18, 2005

Book review: Laws of our Fathers, Scott Turow

There's a certain kind of multi-generational book that appeals to me; the kind where you get to look back across many generations and realize how they all fit together. The grandfather was like this due to oppression and violence; so the father was like that because of his father; so of course the hero has to be just like this because of his family history. This is one of those books, which is a bit surprising, really, since it's a courtroom drama primarily, and that's how we see it from the beginning. But you are bounced back and forth between the heroes as they are today (1995) and how they were 25 years ago as 60's flower children. And while only one parent-child combination are really major players, the ghosts of all of their parents are there, and they carry along the emotional baggage. The judge who is the daughter of the revolutionary; the reporter who is the son of concentration camp survivors; the politician who is the child of a plantation owner.

Maybe the reason I like this sort of book is because of how little I relate. I've done quite a bit of studying of my family history, at least the Fulton and Alspach families, and as far as I can tell they were upstanding and sensible to a man; leading directly to my upstanding and sensible father, and leaving me with no particular emotional baggage, or at least no more than anyone else. We've no horse thieves, we've no child molestors. Maybe we're just really good at concealing it.

But of course we're all blind to our own character flaws. Maybe the rest of the world looks at my family and sees...what? Arrogance? Pomposity? Pretension? It's hard to say. Of course, for the most part no one thinks of anyone else at all, preferring to concentrate on what other people think of them.

Well, but so on the characters go, slaves to their various family pasts. The book twists and turns but holds together somehow, over the course of its 800 pages. I had trouble concentrating on some of the 60's bits, since I had picked it up looking for a courtroom. But worth a read if you have time. Lots of inner-city gang characterizations, so skip it if naughty words disturb you.