I have long felt that Scott Turow taught me how to write a novel. In particular, I experienced an epiphany while reading his third novel Pleading Guity. It was probably just that it was the third novel of his that I had read, and that I had figured out his tricks. Although I have previously thought that Turow is a character-oriented writer, he is in fact a plot-oriented writer—clever and capable in his way. Regardless, he did not teach me everything I needed to know about writing a novel—it took me seven years and many aborted attempts to complete my first, deeply flawed and largely lost novel Camping on Asphalt. But I can say this for sure: Turow showed me how to trick the reader. And I am strip-mining that territory in my current work on Treading Asphalt. [Note]
I just read Turow’s sixth novel Reversible Errors. Here’s my review: it’s a Scott Turow novel. Other than that, I don’t want to go into all the reasons that this is an entirely workman-like effort, fiction by the numbers—the same numbers we have seen in his previous five novels. If you like his books, you will probably like this one. It annoyed me for a couple of reasons, but the main reason was its treatment of the romantic subplot. (Don’t worry, there are no real spoilers here, even though I talk about events at the beginning and end of the novel.)
The main character, Arthur, becomes involved with a woman who used to be a judge, but is no longer because she was convicted of taking bribes. This is pretty bad, because judges are supposed to come to just decisions and when justice becomes a bidding war, it becomes simple commerce. [Note] Arthur does not seem to have a problem with this, perhaps just because he has the hots for her. Fine. One nice thing about Turow is that he has always been willing to show that people over thirty have sex drives (often more explicitly than I would prefer in such a novel).
We know from the beginning, however, that the judge was really being bribed because some people in power knew that she was a heroin addict. When Arthur finds this out he does what pretty much all Americans do when they hear the word heroin: freak out. Thomas Metzger has written wonderfully on the history of perceptions of heroin from its invention to the present in The Birth of Heroin. As Metzger points out, the modern perception of heroin is as a dirty, evil “other”. And this is precisely why people like Turow approach it as though it were the worst thing in the world.
Arthur can deal with the judge committing felonies that have a direct effect on her job. But he can’t deal with her drug choices. A corrupt, drunk judge: yes. A junkie judge: no. The novel ends with the judge begging for Arthur’s forgiveness. Arthur gives it. But what Arthur really needs is a clue. As does Turow.