William Landay is currently basking in the warmth of his six-week on the New York Time’s Best Seller list with his third novel Defending Jacob which came out in January of this year. In addition, he recently blogged the exciting news that Warner Brothers has optioned his latest novel, so we might be seeing his tale on the big screen within the next year.
You won’t find much about Landay on the internet–from him at least–and that is the way he prefers it. Landay is earnest about keeping the details of his life private. He wants his writing to be what sways readers, not the lawyer behind the tales.
So What Does Landray Have To Teach Us About Writing?
Well, again, it is no surprise that Landray takes a unique perspective. Readers might assume from page one that this is just another tale of a lawyer with a tough case. The fact that the story starts with a grand jury disposition where the lawyer, Andrew Barber, reveals on the witness stand that he is now an unemployed assistant district attorney immediately sets up conflict. The reader will quickly assume that something went terribly wrong and not only cost Andrew his job, but has also placed him as a witness or perhaps even a suspect of a crime.
The assumption ends there. We soon find out that Jacob, Andrew’s son in the story, is the classmate of a child who is found murdered in a local park. Andrew immediately takes the case and focuses in on a suspect. The tables are quickly turned, however, when a fingerprint at the scene belongs to that of Jacob. Andrew Barber finds himself out of a job and forced on the defensive. Did he know that his son was involved? Did he cover it up? Is this grand jury trial that we are thrown into the middle of a part of the court proceedings about the murder or is something else going on?
The story, in fact, does not focus on the details of solving the murder. The story focuses on the family who is suddenly forced to defend itself and their attempt to not fall apart. The prosecutor becomes the defender. The seeker of justice becomes the obstructor of justice. The savvy intellectual becomes the naïve parent. The innocent child becomes the murder suspect, and the perfect family unravels at the seams.
As readers, we love when justice prevails, but what if that justice is painful? What if we want our children to stay sweet and innocent and pure? What if everything we have worked for all of our lives means sacrificing the other thing that means the most to us: our family. What if we begin to question the very definition of guilt and innocence and justice? As a reader, you will. Talk about conflict. Landay strikes home.
This twisting of perspective and this depth of conflict is what shoots this novel into the big leagues. It is not the run of the mill suspense thriller that readers might suspect when they pick it up. It makes parents question their abilities. It makes us question the judicial system. It throws us into the cauldron of self-doubt. How far do we go to defend a child? At what cost do we protect society? Who are we to judge guilt and innocence?
We need to write deeply. It is not good enough to tell an interesting tale. Great novels make the reader think. William Landay’s Defending Jacob gets a thumbs up.