Sunday, June 2, 2013

Defending Jacob

William Landay's novel Defending Jacob edges into Jodi Piccoult's territory:  He places the characters in the middle of dilemma, lets them work their way through, and then throws a curve.

The story is told by Andy Barber, leading district attorney in a town just outside of Boston, who is investigating the stabbing death of a fourteen-year-old boy on his way to school--until Barber's own son, one of the victim's classmates--is charged with the murder.  Placed on the opposite side of the court system, Barber and his wife Laurie not only must convince the court of Jacob's innocence, but their own as well.

Andy must admit to his wife Laurie that he has kept secret his own family's past, bringing up the nature-versus-nurture debate. The defense lawyer has the family meet with a counselor who explores new DNA evidence of a potential "murder gene" and diagnoses Jacob as having more than ordinary adolescent angst and social awkwardness. The charge against Jacob affects his parents' marriage, the family's relationship with their neighbors and friends, who distance themselves after the accusations are made public. Readers will realize that whether guilty or innocent, anyone charged with such a heinous, public crime will be changed forever--as will the family.

In order to avoid spoilers, I can only say that Landay continued to throw curve balls through the tale, a real narrative rollercoaster ride.  I suspect I will be thinking about the story and its conclusion for a long time.

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