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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Thursday, June 1, 2006 7:03 pm
Spending 300 Pages with a Jerk
Posted by: Keir Graff

The plot of Jeremy Blachman’s Anonymous Lawyer is pretty simple. A hiring partner at a big law firm starts an anonymous blog as a lark, a way to vent frustrations and take potshots at his colleagues. The blog catches on, and his gratification at finding an audience is balanced with his fear of being found out. He can’t stop himself, and of course he is found out, giving those who’ve discovered him an opportunity to tip the balance of power.

Anonymous is obsessed with becoming chairman of the firm, and this single plot thread drives the entire book. (There’s a subplot in which he causes his niece to question her high ideals, but there’s no action involved.) Normally, that wouldn’t be enough, but I think it is in this case. Blachman’s given his character such a clean, malevolent, hilarious voice that his exhilarating spite alone propels us through the first half, and then the machinery of the plot carries us to the end just when the voice starts to feel a bit repetitive.

Besides becoming chairman, Anonymous is obsessed with two things: making sure everyone works hard enough and maintaining the firm’s rigid hierarchy. Everything is brutally competitive. He refers to “winning” friendly-seeming conversations and uses a paper-clip chain to measure his rival’s office (his own is seven square feet larger).

Some choice quotes:

Kids waste too much time in law school thinking about justice and fairness, and not enough time learning what’s important. 

I’d also like to ban associates putting pictures of their family on their desks. I’ve thought about this for a while. It’s harder to yell at someone when you’re looking at a picture of his kids.

…as a partner, I’m allowed to turn my BlackBerry off while I’m sleeping.

My shoulder hurts from throwing a pair of scissors at my secretary last week.

It’s a feat to make readers want to spend 300 pages with a jerk, but Blachman pulls it off. Anonymous finds himself in his writing – always fighting his instincts to be a better person – and his insecurity makes his arrogance bearable. This is that great cliche, a great summer read. The plot won’t stay with readers, but some of the lines probably will. In fact, it might make a good movie, if someone can figure out how to do it without telling the whole thing in voiceover.

I read a bit of Blachman’s blog, by the way. It reads a lot like the book. Too bad he writes in character, or we could get a blog dialog – a blogalog? – going.

I’m trying to think of novels with deeply unsympathetic protagonists in corporate settings. Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (1991) comes to mind, of course….

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