As I said in my last post, kind friends have been lending me books. I got "The Associate" last week, and happily sat down to read it, as Grisham is a favourite for light reading. But my feminist doubts were aroused early on and refused to go away.
From the beginning, the protagonist is acting to prevent the disclosure of a crime he may have abetted - the rape of an unconscious young woman by the protagonist's friends. The protagonist himself seems blameless of the actual crime, as he was asleep when it occurred. But he repeatedly refuses to admit that a crime was committed or that his friends were to blame in any way, because the victim was known to be promiscuous and had had sex with all of them - the protagonist and his friends - earlier. So in spite of the fact that there was a video clearly indicating that the victim was unconscious and the rapists were aware of it, he blames the victim for wanting justice. He gives in to blackmail and goes out of his way to protect the actual rapists, and expresses his sorrow that one of the rapists, who is now happily partnered and about to become a father, should have his peace of mind threatened by the shadow of you know, this crime he had committed earlier. The Flying Spaggetti Monster forbid that the man's fiancée or parents should know he was a rapist! It would ruin his life! Why was the victim acting so unreasonably? Why couldn't she let bygones be bygones?
The author does show some sympathy towards the victim, depicting that she had apparently been traumatised by the crime. Yet the protagonist and his father repeatedly point out the promiscuousness of the victim, her drink and drug habits, and her apparently resultant unreliability. The victim's lawyer points out that nothing excuses the crime, and the father (also a lawyer) agrees, but they proceed to make a financial settlement. And given the fact that the protagonist never once expresses sorrow for the victim and that the story ends relatively happily for him (without his dear friend having to face any consequences for his action - in fact he happily walks away when the going gets too dangerous and leaves the protagonist to face the music alone, and the protagonist does not seem to resent it in the least), I suppose we are meant to sympathise with the protagonist and the rapists rather than with the victim.
Throughout the book I was hoping for a better turn of events, for the protagonist and his 'friends' to at least realise the enormity of what had happened, if not be punished for it, but while one of the rapists does express remorse and willingness to atone for the past, he is depicted as a recovered alcoholic and not quite mentally stable. (If he were in his right mind, he would never want to meet the victim and apologise, as that might lead to the case reopening, and the friends might be dragged into court! and their families might find out! and their lives would be ruined!) This whole thread of events left a nasty taste in my mouth.
I was deeply disappointed, especially as I have enjoyed Grisham's novels so much in the past. I had observed earlier that most of his women are well, lifeless - beautiful partners with not much to do for themselves, except in two of his novels - "The Pelican Brief" and "The Client" (out of the ones I have read of course).
By the way, my favourite Grisham book is "The Painted House", which I'm sure few others will like, because it's not much of a thriller.