f/k/a . . . the archives

June 3, 2006

Anonymous Lawyer: a novel — way too much of a good thing

Filed under: — David Giacalone @ 12:53 pm
[from f/k/a, May 23, 2006]

Anonymous Lawyer, the narrator-protagonist of the eponymous weblog  
and soon-to-be released novel, by Jeremy Blachman, has no problem
verbally shredding young lawyers, when their work does not meet his
expectations.  Prof. Yabut and the rest of the f/k/a Gang, however, feel
a twinge of regret writing this review of Anonymous Lawyer: A Novel,
after reading an advance copy sent by Jeremy and his publisher, Henry
Holt & Co.).   The book will be officially released July 25, 2006.
We already know that Jeremy Blachman can write scathingly funny,
satiric prose, stay in character, and attract a large following, writing
frequent postings in the weblog format.  Fans of AL (the weblog) dis-
covered he was the author behind the cynical “fictional hiring partner
at a large law firm in a major city,” when Sara Rimer of the New York
Times exposed him in Revealing the Soul of a Soulless Lawyer
(Dec. 26, 2004).  Many were shocked that a third-year Harvard Law 
School  student could convince readers in the thousands that he was
an experienced lawyer-combatant in wars between and among partners
and associates at an elite law firm.
What we didn’t know, when Jeremy turned his NYT unmasking into a
book deal, was whether this law school graduate — who’d rather be an author
than a lawyer — could also write a novel.  Unfortunately, after reading AL:
a novel, I still don’t know. 
Yes, the book is filled with funny, bitter, and (at times, insightful) zingers,
just like the weblog.  But, there are far too many other aspects that are 
just like the weblog.  The first-person narrator continues to be soullessly 
cynical, conniving and cruel — there is no background, no depth or growth
to the Anonymous Lawyer character.   The other characters, with the
slightest of exceptions, are not even cardboard cut-outs; they are simply
nicknames – e.g., the Jerk, the Guy with the Giant Mole, the Suck-Up, the
Bombshell.  As for plot, it is so thin as to be virtually transparent.  We end
up with a hard-copy version of seven weeks of the fictional partner’s weblog.
The publisher apparently wanted a novel based on the weblog (to exploit
the publicity bonanza created by NYT and all the weblogger buzz).  Some-
one with editorial authority decided to write the entire book in weblog form —
using time-dated “postings” varying in length from a few lines, to a few
paragraphs, and occasionally a few pages.  It might be possible to use
that format and write an excellent novel, but I believe this gimmicky choice
made Jeremy’s task of creating a satisfying narrative, plot and resolution,
and having satisfying depth of scene and characterization, much harder.
(Having a true narratvie and storyline that was punctuated with weblog post-
ings would probably have created a structure far more conducive to success.)
In his Acknowledgments, Jeremy thanks a long list of friends  
for “useful feedback on structure, character development, plot,
and more.”  If the “Anonymous Lawyer” had any friends, he
would surely have been far less generous. 
So far, there have been only a few “reviews” of the book:              
Crime & Federalism‘s Mike Cernovich says he stayed up late
and finished the book the same day he received it, and “The
book is brilliant.” Howard Bashman’s wife, “tremendously loved
the book.”  Inside Opinions quotes Great Teacher Onizuka,  at
AutoAdmit, who thinks it’s “very funny” and “This is going to be
the “One L‘ for 2Ls, summer associates, and biglaw attorneys.”
I am looking forward to Denise Howell’s review and hope that Evan Schaeffer
will give us his frank opinion.  My own conclusions are far more like those
of Prof. Ann Althouse than of those praising the book.  Althouse said on
May 21, 2006: “I’ve formed a resistance to it after reading 20 pages.”  She
explains: 
“My resistance is based on the thinness and emptiness of the
narrator, who is a partner in a big law firm. . . .

“I already understand the bad feeling many young people get

from working in law firms, and I don’t want to spend my time
reading what I think is merely projected hatred and not a real
character that can be understood.”
Prof. Althouse wondered if readers could give her any sufficient reasons
for reading further.  Your editor felt a similar “resistance” after reading a 
couple dozen pages of the book — the feeling that there was nothing hap-
pening beyond the one-note satire of the weblog – but decided that we
“owed” it to Jeremy to see if the book turned into a satifsying novel. 
[I even sought out definitions of "novel" -- like here, and there -- to make
sure I wasn't being too harsh. At this point, I'm not even sure if you could
call this a novelization of the weblog.] 
Jeremy took a good thing, that offers a fun time to those interested in the
arcane world of large law firms (and lawyer bashing), and gave us too much
of it — without an expansion of scope and perspective that could keep a wider
audience interested and satisfied.  We like dark chocolate a lot around here,
but on those dark nights when we eat not one large block candy bar, but
five or six of them. the pleasure is soon replaced with the queasiness of
obsession and excess. 
My personal test for the success of a novel (and, of course,
all I can give here is my personal reaction to AL: a novel, as I
make no pretense to having expertise as a literary critic) is
whether I want to share it with others — whether I want to
lend it to them or recommend they invest the money and the
time on the book.   I can’t think of anyone in my circle of friends
and acquaintances to whom I would hand this book with the
expectation that they would enjoy or appreciate the experience
of reading the entire book.  
Yes, I might read aloud or email a sentence or two to a friend,
for the wit or satiric insight.  And, I might suggest they try the
Althouse 20-page experience — which should suffice for getting
the notion (and hopefully keeping them or their children from a
life in BigLaw). Then, if someone new to Anonymous Lawyer found
they enjoyed the humor or perspective, I would point them to the
weblog, where they can get plenty more, in portions that are far
more digestible, and without any great investment or literary ex-
pectations.

Scot Turow wrote a memoir of his first year in law school [One L], which had
depth and vitality and genuineness.  He then went on to become a highly-
regarded novelist.   I think Jeremy Blachman has a fine writing talent, but
I do not know if he can find, structure, and sustain the depth and genuine-
ness that it takes to write a good novel.  I hope he gets the chance to do so,
and to make a good living using his writing skills.

tagging along
with an ice cream cone
the senior partner

his quiet funeral—
a man who did
most of the talking
mid-argument
the senior partner
has a senior minute
mid-argument -
opposing counsel crosses
her legs
      dagosan
a yearling
inching into the field
woodland shadow

first blossoms
my cell phone
set to vibrate

lengthening shadows
a stray dog
joins the picnic
  
hands in pockets–
the wait to view
VanGogh’s sunflowers

“first blossoms” – Walking the Same Path; Heron’s Nest VI:4 
“hands in pockets” – Frogpond XXVIII:3 (2005) 
lengthening shadows” – The Heron’s Nest (2004)
“the yearling” – TIny Words, May 23, 2006

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