Onyx reviews: The
Associate by John Grisham
The Associate is apparently a deliberate attempt by John Grisham to
repeat the feel and runaway success of his second novel, The Firm. In
that early novel, Mitch McDeere, a new hire at a law firm, discovers that he is working for the
mob and that his life is in danger because of what he knows.
The Associate turns that concept on its ear. Kyle McAvoy had no
intention of joining Manhattan's Scully & Pershing, the biggest law firm on
the planet, after he graduates from Yale Law School. It was always his plan to do something in legal aid, perhaps in
immigration law. However, even before he takes the bar exam, a man pretending to
be a federal agent tells Kyle that he is under indictment for an incident that
took place several years earlier when he was an undergrad at Duquesne.
In a situation reminiscent of the Duke lacrosse team case a few years ago, a
young woman claims that she was raped during a wild campus party. The statute of
limitation on rape is twelve years, so Kyle is vulnerable for several more
years. The man who approaches him probably isn't a federal agent—at least
not the kind he claims to be—but he has Kyle over a barrel. His
instructions are simple: Kyle is to take the job he was offered at Scully &
Pershing and somehow get himself assigned to a high profile case involving a
suit between two companies suing each other over ownership of technology
associated with a Pentagon defense contract.
Because no one knows the reason for Kyle's change of heart, he is accused
repeatedly of selling out—by his law school professors, his friends, his
girlfriend and his father, a small town lawyer from York, PA. Kyle is one of
over 100 new associates with Scully & Pershing. Their jobs are brutal; 15%
of them will leave after the second year, and only 10% will survive to make
partner in seven years. They are machine gun fodder, an endless and renewable
supply of disposable labor, permanently linked to their employer by Firm Fones
that must always be turned on.
Kyle ends up in Document Review, a mindless position where associates are
tasked with reading mountains of paperwork simply so lawyers can claim that
every piece of evidence in a particular case has been examined. At other times,
Kyle is assigned to write briefs that will never be read. The associates are
judged purely on the number of hours they bill, and their value to the firm
doubles the minute they pass the bar.
Kyle is more resourceful than his handlers give him credit for, though. A fan
of techno-thrillers, he understand how to lull his minders into a false sense of
security by establishing a predictable routine. That leaves him free to deviate
from the routine when he wants to execute the next step in his battle to win
back his life. He enlists the help of some of his college friends, men who were
also present during the alleged rape.
One of the attractions of The Firm was the sense that Mitch McDeere
was between several rocks and the hardest of places. Readers have the sense that
he has no way out and is at very real risk of either being killed or arrested.
The same is not true of The Associate. Kyle is so skilled at deflecting
and out-thinking his expert adversaries that it's never a question of whether he
will get out from under their extortion, but how. The book falls together a
piece at a time like bricks in a wall. Kyle gets assigned to the case his
handlers want him to infiltrate without having to do anything. Everything he
does to counter his handlers succeeds as planned.
The ending is less resolved than most of Grisham's novels. However, it seems
that Grisham was more interested in exploring the horrific conditions faced by
associates during their indoctrination into the world of corporate law than in
the specifics of Kyle's situation. On that level the book succeeds. As a
fast-paced thriller with insufficient tension to keep the suspense at a high
level, The Associate isn't quite as successful.
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