By: John Grisham
Publication Date: January 2008
Reviewed by: Pamela Victor
Review Date: September 2008
Jeannette Baker is a meek woman living in a small town Mississippi trailer park smack in the heart of a place called “Cancer County.” Within eight months, she had watched her husband, and then her only child, die of cancer caused by drinking water contaminated by Krane Chemical’s illegal dumping of toxins. Jeannette uses up all her remaining courage and strength to sue Krane Chemical, the prototypical multinational conglomeration run by a filthy-rich-yet-still-insatiable Carl Trudeau. And when an appeal is filed, the case goes all the way to the state Supreme Court. Like Krane Chemical itself, John Grisham uses Jeannette Baker as a mere pawn to tell the story of how absolutely anything, even a seat on the state Supreme Court, is for sale in America.
Grisham’s twentieth novel presents yet another modern day David and Goliath story. The common person against the corporation. Poor vs. rich. Main Street vs. Wall Street. Good vs. greed. This moral tug-o-war is common territory for the author of The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Rainmaker, to name but a few of his fast-paced thrillers of this ilk. Certainly if you are among the many fans of Grisham’s favored themes, you will get your fill with The Appeal. It’s all there: juicy courtroom scenes, good-hearted small town lawyers, cold-blooded big city lawyers, bureaucratic corruption, Supreme Court justices, a rigged election. Although not nearly as fast-paced and gripping as some of his best work, The Appeal remains a satisfying read.
What saves this book from being just more of the same from Grisham is its timeliness. Within the context of today’s age of hyper-bureaucracy, when the average shopper must make a real effort to buy something that isn’t produced by a mega-corporation, The Appeal feels eerily perceptive. It asks (and answers) the question, “Can a major election be bought?” In this book, Grisham illustrates a campaign’s effective use of “truthiness,” a concept that means appealing to a voter’s gut feeling as opposed to actual fact. In doing so Grisham comments on an American superficial inclination to elect the candidate they would rather have a beer with. Grisham utilizes common ploys in today’s political playbooks in order to illustrate how easy it is to convince the majority of voters to support the less capable candidate. In doing so, the author prompts readers to wonder in fear if powerful people are as devious, callous and cunning as Krane Chemical’s CEO Carl Trudeau.
What do you think? Can a major election be bought? You won’t get John Grisham’s answer until the very end of The Appeal.