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Books: Grisham from Screen to Novel

January 24th, 2006

When I left home at the end of vacation recently, my father gave me three John Grisham novels to read. I had only asked for one for the airplane, but I didn’t turn down the extras. I’ve enjoyed the movies made from his novels (The Firm, The Client, A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker and The Pelican Brief), and figured it’d be interesting to see how the novels read. I was given The Broker, The Street Lawyer, and The Last Juror. They were certainly good enough. So I moved on from there.

I have a strange set of reading habits. I’ll read books all the time, two or three per week, until I tire of it. Then, for another indeterminate amount of time, I’ll read nothing. I tend to stay with certain authors and go through as much of their work as I can. When I was a kid, I went through science fiction that way–Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Niven, Pournelle. As a young adult, I got into Varley, Pohl, some of Zelazny (mostly the Amber series), Farmer (mostly the Riverworld series), and non sci-fi with Clavell and Clancy. Later, I got into Neal Stephenson, Brin, Chricton, Card, and others, and now Grisham. I’m leaving out a lot, but there are the highlights. Card I tore into at first, with Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Pastwatch. But then, as I started to read more of him, I quickly tired, especially of the repetitive abusive-older-brother theme. Stephenson was great for a lot more novels, like Snow Crash, Interface, and The Diamond Age, but a little during and more after Cryptonomicon, he started getting way too meandering and hard to follow. Clancy started going steeply downhill around the time of Debt of Honor, and became utterly unreadable.

Anyway, though I tend to re-read books often (a habit acquired in my early days in Japan when English-language media was scarce), I often “run out” of material, of books I want to read. So getting on to a new author is a good thing, and Grisham’s got enough of a library built up to keep me busy for a while. I got back to my Amazon.co.jp account, and ordered three more–The Firm, The Runaway Jury, and The Partner. The last I’ve never heard of before, but the other two are movies–one I’ve seen, and the other one not yet. Today I finished The Firm, and found the story differences between the book and film are quite interesting. By the way, if you haven’t read the book and/or seen the film, and you don’t want the plot described, then do not read ahead.

Though there are, naturally, some additional scenes in the beginning, as you’d expect from a long novel translated into even a two-and-a-half-hour movie. Mitch enters the firm, gets busy, is approached by the feds, and starts scrambling to save his butt. But about halfway through the book, you can see where the filmmakers started to stray. It starts when McDeere makes the decision about what to tell his wife–he never tells her in the novel, and the reverse in the film, which changes a lot of the story after that point–and then there’s a much bigger turn when, in the film, McDeere finds a way to satisfy both the FBI and the Mob, and keep his lawyer’s license. In the book, that never comes up; in fact, he not only turns on the mob, he steals from them as well, big-time. A pretty big difference, one that made the entire last half of the novel completely new if you’ve only seen the film before.

The question is, which is better? And in a way, they both are, for their respective media. But I have to admit a preference for the film version. Though the whole “promise of you” ending was a bit too melodramatic along the lines of a Jerry Maguire ending, the rest is wrapped up into a neat package, a smart solution which keeps McDeere alive and kicking, and probably safe and in business. The solution for (and portrayal of) Ray McDeere is also more satisfying. The whole thing comes across more as a well-executed con game, at least a cleverly orchestrated plan, with the little guy playing the players at their own games and winning all around. The novel’s ending seemed a bit too much of a break for the character, going from tax lawyer to millionaire outlaw sailor on the run from the Mob.

It should be interesting to do the reverse with another Grisham novel, reading The Runaway Jury first, and then seeing the movie.

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  1. January 25th, 2006 at 10:30 | #1

    I liked the book ending of The Firm better than the Hollywoodized version, but it was an entertaining flick nonetheless. I’m kind of dreading the much-rumored movie version of Snow Crash, though.

  2. January 29th, 2006 at 04:30 | #2

    My favorite Grisham book is The Testament. I would LOVE to see that as a movie….more for the scenery I guess. But I just like the story too. It’s not very mystery/action, but it tells a great story of loss, renewal, and hope.

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