The Firm–A critique

Anyone who knows me or has read my bio or one of the interviews I’d had on a few blog sites, knows that John Grisham is one of my all time favorite authors. I’ve been reading Mr. Grisham since 1993 when I as did millions of Americans, got swept up in “The Firm” fever. Of course the book had come out two years earlier. I was a little late getting on the bandwagon, having done so after viewing Tom Cruise’s theatrical interpretation. Nevertheless, I bought the paperback and read to my heart’s delight. Now, twenty-one years later I revisit “The Firm”. The book launched Mr. Grisham into the stratosphere where all authors wish to be. It was an international success! I often wonder how Mr. Grisham must have felt when first experiencing what was soon to become the norm for him.

What I admire about “The Firm” is that it connected with so many people in so many ways. And honestly, that’s what an author truly wants, connectedness with readers. The Firm had that. Was it a literary masterpiece? Few people would say so.  Was it technically perfect in all ways? Again, probably not. But to me all that’s beside the point. The book reached people, pure and simple. And the people simply loved it! With that being said, let’s delve into “The Firm”  a little bit, shall we.

Now that I’ve expressed my love for Grisham and The Firm, let me tell you my beef about it. But first, a little summary. The firm is about a young Harvard Law school graduate who lands a job a an unknown, but rich firm. He gets a huge salary, Mercedes, and a home mortgage.But soon after passing the bar and becoming a full employee, the FBI approaches the young man and tells him that his dream employer is actually a wing of the mob. And thus, the fireworks starts.

My first problem with the story is that after the firm learns that the FBI has approached this young man (Mitch), the Firm had the option of immediately firing him. But they don’t that. Instead, they strongly consider firing the two recent hires before him. That didn’t make logical sense to me. Why not fire this new kid who doesn’t know anything yet? They could have stopped the FBI dead in their tracks. This supposedly rich, powerful, and smart firm didn’t even consider that option. Another problem I had with the Firm is how Mitch, the new guy was able to figure out so much about it in a relatively short period of time. I means he learns everything and he’s able to not only get the FBI the information to bring the Firm down, he also ends up stealing 10 million dollars of the Firm’s money. That just didn’t seem realistic to me. He just graduated law school. He was still wet behind the ears; yet he was able to figure out how to steal ten million dollars from a firm that had been operating as a wing of the mob for many years. A firm that the FBI couldn’t get enough evidence on to bring down. But this green rookie was able to steal big time money from it and give the FBI the ammunition it needed to bring it down, all in less than a year’s time? Geez, talk about straining credulity! Back when the book first came out, all the critics just gushed over how Mr. Grisham, a criminal defense attorney had uncovered the secrets of tax attorneys. I bet good money no tax attorney was making that claim. The one thing Grisham had been able to do was feed into the public’s perception of lawyers as greedy, manipulative bastards. And the critics just ate that up.

Which brings me to the main character, Mitch. Mitch as described by Grisham was superhuman almost. He worked about twenty hours a day, seven days a week. He was extremely smart and handsome. He had a beautiful wife that he ended up cheating on in a one time slip. Here’s the thing: Mitch was the same cad at the end of the story as he was at the beginning. He never changed.  Most literary teachers always say that the protagonist should undergo some type of metamorphosis by the end of the story. Our boy Mitch did not. Also, he never faced any type of adversity during the story. Sure, he found out his employer was the mob and that the FBI’s offer of protection (years in protected custody) wasn’t suitable to him. But he never faced too many tense moments and he figured out a way to get exactly what he wanted. And he did so with minimum effort. Other than the one time when he had to dash for his life when the Mob learns that he’s been talking with the FBI, Mitch never otherwise faced a trying moment. Reading the book, I never worried about Mitch being in danger. Personally, I kept reading to see how he would eventually get out of the mess he was in. It was tension-less; but enjoyable reading.

Which brings me to the point about my little peeves with the book. None of them mattered. Why? Because I like millions of other readers loved the story anyway. And that to me is what matters. If the readers love it, then technical correctness or literary greatness be damned! So, if you’re writing something, your most important goal should be to write it from the heart. Who knows, millions of readers may connect with it yet.


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