The Confession, John Grisham

October, 2010

John Grisham’s political agenda

I don’t mind the politics of a writer being advanced by his art. I don’t mind reading for the “fun of it,” and getting introduced to someone’s opinion about an issue. I am a grown up, I can decide things like this on my own. I welcome the chance to examine all sides, and I don’t ever mind learning something new. But this is fiction. From it, I learned a lot about the potential for corruption. These things may or may not happen; these political and law enforcement types probably do exist and I do not slight this effort of Grisham’s to open my eyes to these possibilities. That being said and out of the way, let’s think about the book.

Nicole Yarber was abducted nine years prior, and she is presumed dead. Donte Drumm a Black student has been blamed for her death. He is in the final moments of life, on Death Row and days away from execution.

Like all good fiction, the story is about how something changes as a result of the events of the story. Whether the reader puts himself in the position of that character or another character or no character and reads it objectively, is  dependent on the reader. This story is about Keith Schroeder, a Lutheran minister who doesn’t know it but is ready for a change. He is a man who embarks on an unusual journey to find his purpose in life. It’s odd to think that a  minister has not yet found his place, and that he searches as we all do for reason and redemption, and I think Grisham could have done more to share with us what Schroeder experienced in his private moments. The “Death Penalty” is another major character in this story and it received its fair share of reflection and examination.

Of the many characters in this story, most are present, accounted for and dealt with by the end. The bad legal system, the corrupt cops, the townsfolk who are portrayed as idiots and the children — the only ones who show solidarity against the bad system are all fairly well-known, well-used cliche type characters. The lamb is Donte Drumm, sacrificed to expose the system.

For Donte and his family, Grisham applies a gentle touch of characterization with only a few cliche behaviors and statements; yet the boy (in my opinion) never expresses sufficient fear, disbelief or outrage that after  he did everything “right,” he was going to die.  Then there is the crazy man, Travis Boyette, who is not a stock character. In fact Travis (and at times Pastor Schroeder) is the most “real” character in this cast. He is unpredictable, he is manipulative, he is heartless and unapologetic. There are moments in the text when we know things are just not right. Early on, Travis reveals himself, and I couldn’t help feeling that I was in the presence of a Hannibal Lecter (not because Grisham ripped off the character, but because these kind of monsters are so real).

Travis, the devil, visits the man of God, to tempt him. He places before the Pastor the delectable opportunity to right a terrible wrong. The devil does not lie — much. He is so genuine, in fact, that he teases the Pastor with lascivious comments about his very cute little wife. The devil gets hold of the Pastor and leads him to the thing that will set to right the world of this story, and it may just save an innocent man from execution. The Pastor, driven to do right, follows the devil into the desert and faces Death. The devil delivers the goods and vanishes. This equence comprises the action of the story and it is in this cat-and-mouse game between Travis, the lawyers, the preacher, and everyone of the various entourages that drives the story. The question of whether Travis is telling the truth about Donte Drumm is clearly proven. Now what? Is Donte’s name a play on Dante in this hellish version of damnation?

Like any good devil, Travis vanishes. He also, by the way, leaves behind the props of his facade. Why is nobody worried? Why isn’t the Pastor worried about his wife? Only as an after-thought, it seems to me, some of his concerns do surface.  The devil is taken down in what I feel is a weak finish. Another attempt at devil mayhem is thwarted by a “hand of god” device in the person of Enrico Muñez, in his first appearance in the text, Enrico is a hero and the devil is contained.

But the story is Schroeder’s and we are not done with him. He is chastised for his law-skirting activity by his bishop, a fat, get-along guy in the Lutheran hierarchy. He is worried about things that no true “fisher of men” would be concerned with, but he is on a journey. At only 35 he has yet to figure it all out. I object to this characterization since he is a minister, and one must assume that he already had heeded a call to his ministry. Schroeder is changed by the events with Travis, by what he witnesses. That the devil always gets his due seems to have escaped Schroeder and almost too late the good pastor realizes that Donte Drumm’s exoneration might cost him his wife.

Reeva Yarber Pike, Nicole Yarber’s mother, is a composite character rich in racism, self-loathing, and victimhood. She is a caricature of what can go terribly wrong when celebrity, even in the face of horror, falls into the life of a miserable fool. Reeva is played out in all the gross exaggerations common to storybook witches. That she is the suffering mother of the victim is sometimes lost on her and the reader as her witch-hunt to condemn Drumm to death escalates to circus levels. I have known folks who have lost children to violence. They are not ever happy again, they are not ever celebrating the killer’s punishment – they are satisfied with the justice of an eye-for-an-eye, but they are not acting like Reeva. They never forget their own loss. They seldom smile again.  There are some inconsistencies, but in all it is a good read. There are no real surprises, but readers can certainly  delight in the quirks of a few of these characters.

Question: During Schroeder’s and Travis’ excursion, the Pastor regrets failing to raid the cigar box he kept at home, which “usually held about $200 in cash.” At the end of the book, Travis Boyette has $230 in his pocket. Is Grisham so slick as to lead us to think that the Devil had gotten inside the Schroeder home? I prefer to think he was.

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