Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A question

On page 263 of John Grisham's new novel The Associate, which in most respects I'm enjoying for all the usual Grisham things, there appear the expressions 'second-tier' (referring to schools) and, two paragraphs later, 'C-list' (referring to Hollywood agents).

Can anyone who knows either Grisham or contemporary America (or, ideally, both) better than I do give me a clue as to whether there is any authorial irony at all attached to his use of these expressions? I'm damned if I can tell whether he shares his characters' unquestioning acceptance of these hierarchies as gospel or not. I'm hoping that the way the plot turns out will give me a clue.

17 comments:

Beth said...

I've thought about this in regards to The Firm, and my suggestion is that Grisham is inconsistent - he critiques aspects of American society but then affirms them as well. So, in The Firm the evil law firm run by the mob is a blinking great comment that Greed is Wrong, but then Mitch steals millions of dollars and lives the rest of his days cruising the Caribbean in a yacht, with Grisham's apparent blessing.

I think you're right that the plot will tell you more - would love to hear your thoughts on that.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Thanks, Beth, great answer! Yes, I'm getting close to the end, so the fate of the hero will shortly indicate the moral of the story, much as you describe it here. But I quite like this dude, so I do hope he goes the other way ...

I've just checked out the Wikipedia entry on Grisham and there's a list of quotations from his interviews, of which the one I like best is 'I'm a famous writer in a country where nobody reads.' So he's clearly not irony-challenged per se.

Amanda said...

I've frequently seen "second tier" in serious/uncontroversial reference to, say, law schools (and universities, which they insist on calling "schools"). They have more rigid hierarchies of those things there, I suppose since they have so many.

C-list is a bit snarkier and must be said with irony since A list and maybe even B list can be unironic descriptors but once you get to C you must know it has an edge.

froginthepond said...

I'd second Amanda's comment on 'second tier'. Ranking in universities and other education sectors is taken very seriously. Rather than being used ironically, I'd see it's use in fiction as a shorthand cultural reference to not quite making the grade or aspirational motivations.

Armagnac Esq. said...

I've read most of his books - It's a professional hazard. He can seem very moral 'for the little guy/gal', but in a bigger picture sense is a fairly unreconstructed conservative I think. The one about the missionaries celebrates cultural genocide as a heroic act, for example.

He's fun to a point, but not that great a writer, even for a door stop novelist (compared say with Stephen King).

Best reference ever: Houellebecq, in Whatever, has a character reading a Grisham novel put it down in disgust, then, not wanting anyone else to read it, he walks down below the tide line on the beach and buries it deep in the sand...

Pavlov's Cat said...

Interesting -- I feel the same way about Houellebecq as Houellebecq feels about Grisham. But then, I'm a woman.

Grisham does seems politically very odd to me, though. I take your point absolutely about the cultural genocide, for example, and I'm repelled by what really does seem his unironic celebration of material riches undreamed-of, which begins after a while to induce nausea as this slavering aspect of much popular fiction so often does. On the other hand, he has a long history of concern for social justice and the so-called little guy, and he has had a political career as a Democrat.

I disagree about his skills as a writer, though, bearing in mind that doorstop/popular fiction requires different skills from literary ditto. This is only the third Grisham I've read, but so far the plots are good and gallop along, the characters are interesting, and he's more literate (better with sentence construction, bigger vocabulary, more skilful with generic conventions, etc) than most of the people writing this kind of stuff. Normally I couldn't be less interested in plots about money and conspiracies and space-age weapons and business, but he's good enough at what he does to keep me from falling asleep in spite of his subject matter.

The 'second tier' thing is interesting, isn't it, and I'm sure Australia has its equivalents, as with the 8 universities that are supposed to matter most and so on. Sometimes it's utterly laughable, as when you see a TV ad claiming that 'the cream of the sporting and entertainment elite' [sic] will be at some function or other and it turns out they're talking about Sam Newman. I suppose it all depends on whether one is prepared to accept these classifications and/or to act on one's acceptance, but I'm fascinated by the way people who do accept them seem totally incurious about (a) who makes the decisions about what constitutes second-tier or C-list or whatever, (b) what their reasons and criteria are, and, most tellingly, (c) who benefits.

Fyodor said...

"I feel the same way about Houellebecq as Houellebecq feels about Grisham. But then, I'm a woman."

Mais, bien sûr : you ain't no Houellebecq Girl.

cristy said...

"I feel the same way about Houellebecq as Houellebecq feels about Grisham. But then, I'm a woman."

Ha. Well said Pav. I couldn't agree more. I read one of his books (Platform) and felt the need to scrub myself clean afterwards. Such a load of misogyny.

BTW I would also agree with Armagnac, my guess is that Grisham is ultimately pretty conservative. However, I can't base that on a very large sample size of his books.

[Arggh, when we word verification approve my letters?]

ThirdCat said...

WOT*, but have you considered buying a kindle? I have been looking at them on amazon, and if the price were not so prohibitive, I would seriously consider it, I reckon.

Also: "Sometimes it's utterly laughable, as when you see a TV ad claiming that 'the cream of the sporting and entertainment elite' [sic] will be at some function or other and it turns out they're talking about Sam Newman." That is hilarious, would I be able to steal that for possible use at a later date?

*Way Off Topic

Francis Xavier Holden said...

It's ok for Floppy Amanda she's in the top 25 music blogs. That's A list baby.

millamant said...

The expressions 'top tier' and 'mi tier' have become accepted usage in legal circles here over the past 15 years to rank law firms - one of the more unfortunate borrowings from the US. I've never heard any firm described as bottom tier. If you're not 'top' or 'mid' you're 'boutique'. And then of course there's criminal law firms and labour law firms who aren't ranked because they don't do commercial law.

Bernice said...

WOT - re Kindle - don't bother unless you live in the States. The files HAVE to be downloaded via Sprint EVDO network protocols which aint gunna appear any time soon in the world of Aust mobile phones. Nor does Kindle 2. support PDF files - you MIGHT be able to hack MODI. files but given the limited range, not worth the effort. Buy an Iphone instead & install books.app if you must go over to the dark side.

Bernice said...

And sorry - I was going to say I think of Grisham as a slightly saner version of social conservative aka Michael Crichton.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Thanks Bernice, v useful to know.

WV: buggerse.

Rly.

via collins said...

Is now a good time to point out that Grisham is chief investor in one of the world's finest little literary magazines, The Oxford American?

At least he was, I figure he still is. Amanda will know it well for it's annual music issue - a true cause for celebration that issue invariably is.

skepticlawyer said...

The US takes ranking very seriously, especially of law schools and educational institutions generally. The different ranking bodies vary slightly in what they measure, but all tend to have the 'Ivies' plus the top West Coast universities (Stanford, Berkeley) near or at the top.

Brian Leiter (an influentual jurisprudential scholar) also ranks philosophy departments, as well as law schools. The Americans have also now started to include Oxford and Cambridge in their ranking systems, simply because so many US legal academics are recruited from them. They joust with the Ivies (Harvard and Yale, typically) for top spot.

I've always found Grisham an effective popular legal writer. His experience as a trial lawyer means that he actually captures legal procedure (and legal culture) accurately -- something that's actually rare in much fiction (both popular and literary).

Politically, I think he's a conservative Southern Democrat, but he's also alert to the way race often works in the South. 'A Time to Kill' and 'The Rainmaker' catch this very well.

lucy tartan said...

LOL at if you're not top tier or mid tier you're boutique.


Houellebecq for me is very much a boutique novelist.