We had our chat for Grisham's first novel, A Time To Kill, Sunday evening. Check out the discussion and stay tuned for the next book.
Cindy: Amanda, good questions
Amanda: Oh, thanks! This book may be a mystery thriller, but it still raises a ton of great questions.
Cindy: yes it does, I think it was a good read. Different from what we have been doing, but it has just as much, or more, to offer in terms of discussion
Susan: I agree. I've only gotten through 80% of the book, but I know what happens in the rest
I agree with Cindy (to clarify the order of comments haha)
Cindy: This was my first, but I don't think it'll be my last.
Amanda: and I was really surprised at how good it was.
Susan: It was Grishom's first too
Cindy: I have been really interested to hear your opinion since you are in the law business. I have been waiting to hear what you think of it all
Susan: Me too!
Cindy: shall we begin with your questions?
Amanda: Well, the novel was very focused on criminal procedure--in particular, the jury selection process. Did you find that accessible? Realistic?
What I got hung up on was how no one adhered to the procedures in place.
Amanda: There are a hundred reasons why this trial should have been thrown out and retried somewhere else.
Cindy: It all started with the grand jury selection
Amanda: Ah, true.
Susan: very true
Cindy: I found that part unrealistic, yet totally relateable
Susan: for me it was frustrating that this is sort of the best system we can do
Amanda: Yes. The system is messed up.
Cindy: There is so much room for error
Amanda: Does that justify Carl Lee's actions?
Should Carl Lee be allowed to take matters into his own hands because the system is so poor?
Cindy: Does what justify his actions?
Susan: maybe if he had waited and seen the outcome
Amanda: I.e., because it would be uncertain whether the two boys who raped his daughter might get off, or be paroled down the road...
So, it's okay for him to take matters into his own hands if the court doesn't come out the way he wanted it to?
Cindy: I don't know. I keep tossing that around because it is so true that jurors can be bias, and that, particularly in racially segregated regions, there is still a great deal of racism that protects the white man
Susan: I agree, Cindy
it's just a sucky situation all around
Amanda: True, but we still have to use the system we have.
Cindy: It is so hard to determine what is justified, because really if you say he is not justified to react in that way, then how do you justify the death penalty
Amanda: It's a slow process to change things.
Well, I wouldn't justify what he did, or the death penalty, personally.
Cindy: how do you decide who gets to make the decisions and when it is ok or not ok?
Susan: that's the kicker
apparently 12 people expertly manipulated can make that decision
Amanda: But, we have an appeal system. If the wrong decision is made, or if the trial is unfair, you can appeal to the next court.
Then you get judges instead of juries.
Cindy: but in this situation, the judge was kind of bias too
he refused change of venue
Susan: but what if it is a poor defendant saddled with a public defender or incompetent lawyer?
Amanda: Well, he was an elected judge. When you get to the upper levels, they're appointees. Still have political bias sometimes, but eventually you'll make your way to the Supreme Court...
Incompetent lawyer is also a grounds for appeal.
And, public defenders can be very zealous advocates. But, it is luck of the draw at that point.
Absolutely, the system is biased towards people with money.
That's why pro bono work is so important, so the poor can get good lawyers, too.
Susan: well the system is biased in many ways because people are biased
no way that is ever going to change; whether it concerns rage, religion, gender, etc.
Cindy: the sin of man
Amanda: Ah ha-an imperfect system designed by imperfect man-
Whoa, that's how you strike things out?
An imperfect system by man, but people who do wrong will get their just rewards in the afterlife, by God.
Cindy: true dat
Amanda: Who are we to impose justice?
Susan: oh this is a slippery slope
Cindy: but who are we to let man continually hurt others/
Amanda: So, convict the two boys, throw them in jail, and leave Carl Lee's hands clean.
Susan: I think they would have been convicted
Amanda: I agree.
Susan: but how long is long enough?
Cindy: That is ideal, but what if the boys aren't convicted? You can't control that conviction
Amanda: They're really poor, would have gotten the public defender, and there was already a signed confession...
Cindy: and, the reason Carl Lee reacted in that way is because the year prior 4 white men got away with raping a black girl
Susan: well the one guy got his own lawyer
Amanda: Is that right? I don't recall.
Susan: didn't he get some snarky/yucky guy?
Amanda: Oh, that's right, and he had to associate with the public defender because he was out of state?
and the witness to the confession (in the bar) was drunk when he got it
Amanda: Ah, but the younger guy confessed in prison.
Susan: I think that confession was shaky
Cindy: ultimately, there is no way to positively determine how the jurors would react. How the lawyers would manipulate, I mean Carl Lee did what he knew would guarantee those men suffer for their crime
Susan: they could argue about his mental capacity
Amanda: Irrespective of whether or not the boys would have been convicted, I don't think Carl Lee was justified in his actions. I would argue that vigilante justice is never justified.
Cindy: could you imagine how our country would be if everyone did that?
Susan: but those deaths resulted in the deaths (or injuries) of many others
retaliation spawned retailiation
Cindy: the snowball effect
Cindy: two wrongs don't make a right!
Amanda: You cannot foresee the effects of such an action...
Susan: but two lefts do
Let's talk about the KKK.
What did you think of Grisham's portrayal?
Cindy: oh please
Susan: nice transition, Conan
Amanda: You're going to love this one!
Cindy: ok. so let me begin by saying I have lived in the south
Amanda: Oh, yes, give us your impression.
Cindy: and that the KKK is still very much active
I read numerous stories online and in the newspaper about KKK violence
when I first read about it, I was shocked
I totally thought that was a thing of the past, but its not.
Susan: very sad
Cindy: all that is to say, I didn't think his portrayal of the KKK is that far off
Amanda: I agree.
I thought it was well done, a great insight into the scare tactics and mentality.
Cindy: they make me want to scream
Amanda: It was great to see the actions of the KKK contrasted with the black protesters.
But, also interesting to see that the black church community wasn't perfect--the pastors at the top were somewhat corrupt.
That was a major theme of this book. Nobody's perfect.
Susan: well and the black protesters began the physical violence at the riot
Cindy: Yeah, true.
And when you realize that, then you start to question even more how we justify casting the first stones
Amanda: Yes. Or, retaliating. It all escalates so quickly.
Cindy: Don't get me wrong, I think there are great things about our justice system, but I still struggle with deciding how just it is
Amanda: It is a very imperfect system.
We try to safeguard that with our procedures and appeals systems, but people (read: lawyers) are highly skilled at getting around them.
Susan: I think that is what is frustrating and the cause for a lot of the hate: how technical and shrouded in mystery the legal process is
Amanda: Ah, yes.
There was one scene in the courtroom where Carl Lee kept asking Jake questions about what was going on, and Jake kept responding, "I'll explain later."
Why do you think Jake took the case? Was it for fame? Future clients? The pursuit of justice? A favor to his former client Lester? Felt a duty as a father with a little girl?
Cindy: haha, I was just going to ask that
Cindy: he was totally motivated by fame
Amanda: The media circus at the beginning was very interesting.
Cindy: I think he did consider Carl Lee a friend of sorts, especially since he previously represented the family. However, he was mesmerized by the cameras
Susan: I agree that it was fame that ultimately drew him, though I think those all possibly factored in
not mesmerized, intoxicated
Amanda: Mm, excellent word choice.
Cindy: Weren't both lawyers intoxicated by the same reasons
I mean, both sides wanted the fame
Cindy: so it was just a fight for camera time
Amanda: Absolutely, though the results of fame would be different for the two of them--one wanted to run for governor, the other just wanted more/better clients, to become the best lawyer in town.
It was interesting to see Jake contrasted with Ellen, who legitimately was in it for the civil rights movement, not for the fame per se.
Cindy: well, she had some motivation to be with Jake
Susan: I don't know. she seemed very stereotypical for me
Cindy: going back to the theme that no one is perfect. Everyone in this book is motivated by selfish desires
at least to some degree
Amanda: This is one of my critiques of Grisham--he writes all of his female lawyer-types the same way, as far as I can tell. They're all, beautiful, sexy, passionate, argumentative, super smart, and attracted to the main character, who is older, male, and often unavailable.
Susan: Cindy, I think that is true with real life
Cindy: man, he must be writing about the things he wished happened to him
Amanda: Hahaha, that's my suspicion.
Susan: and his wife was cardboard
Amanda: Also, every book I've read so far has involved someone hiding out in the Caribbean for a while. Lucien, in this case.
But, that's neither here nor there.
I hate the way Ellen fizzled out at the end, as a plot device.
Why do you think everyone drank so much?
Cindy: I don't know
Susan: the drinking and driving really bothered me
Susan: some I can understand, like Lucien (rich, disgruntled, bored)
(drinking, not the driving)
Cindy: yeah, well and the white trash KKK
Amanda: Alcoholism is a big issue in the legal profession. They told us at our orientation that a third of us would be alcoholics by the time we graduated.
Cindy: that is crazy
are you part of the one third or two third
Amanda: It's a big part of the culture. Some sort of "I work really hard, so I deserve a drink" mentality, run amok.
Heh, two thirds, thank God.
Susan: who are we kidding, it's a big part of our culture period
Cindy: this book was written in 1989, does anyone know drinking data from that period?
Susan: hahaha umm no
Amanda: I felt like Jake was pretty disrespectful of his wife. He took up drinking as soon as she was gone, didn't respect her enough to involve her in the problems he was facing, and didn't even tell her about... I don't want to ruin this for Susan, hm.
Cindy: come on, don't you remember?
Susan: I was too wasted
Susan: preschool was hard! I deserved a drink
Amanda: I colored inside the lines! Shotshotshots!
Cindy: Jake was not a totally likeable character, and I think that was evident from the beginning when you could tell he was motivated by the fame
Susan: I'm not sure there were any really likable characters
Cindy: He got so wrapped up in his work. Do you think he didn't involve her because he was trying to protect her?
Susan: just certain facets of the characters
Amanda: Tonya was the one innocent character.
Susan: but she was a 10 year old victim
her character wasn't explored
Cindy: maybe Grisham wrote the other characters to be unlikeable so we would sympathize more with the victim
Amanda: I don't buy that at all, that "he was trying to protect her" argument. Women do not need to be "protected" by being left out of the decision-making process.
Susan: very true
it said in the book he wanted a woman to give him babies, not seek a career
Cindy: I'm not saying I agree with that justification, but isn't that the excuse many people (male and female) use when they keep secrets
Susan: or, I'm assuming interfere in his
Amanda: Yes, I think it was his rationale, Cindy.
Susan: ok I love this discussion, but I have to run. kp duty
Amanda: Fair enough. Thanks for chatting!
Cindy: stay tuned for the next book