Defending Jacob: A Novel

Defending Jacob: A Novel

by William Landay
Defending Jacob: A Novel

Defending Jacob: A Novel

by William Landay


(Not eligible for purchase using B&N Audiobooks Subscription credits)
$14.99  $17.00 Save 12% Current price is $14.99, Original price is $17. You Save 12%.
    Qualifies for Free Shipping
    Check Availability at Nearby Stores

Related collections and offers


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “A legal thriller that’s comparable to classics such as Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent . . . tragic and shocking.”—Associated Press


Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney for two decades. He is respected. Admired in the courtroom. Happy at home with the loves of his life: his wife, Laurie, and their teenage son, Jacob. Then Andy’s quiet suburb is stunned by a shocking crime: a young boy stabbed to death in a leafy park. And an even greater shock: The accused is Andy’s own son—shy, awkward, mysterious Jacob.

Andy believes in Jacob’s innocence. Any parent would. But the pressure mounts. Damning evidence. Doubt. A faltering marriage. The neighbors’ contempt. A murder trial that threatens to obliterate Andy’s family. It is the ultimate test for any parent: How far would you go to protect your child? It is a test of devotion. A test of how well a parent can know a child. For Andy Barber, a man with an iron will and a dark secret, it is a test of guilt and innocence in the deepest sense.

How far would you go?

Praise for Defending Jacob

“A novel like this comes along maybe once a decade . . . a tour de force, a full-blooded legal thriller about a murder trial and the way it shatters a family. With its relentless suspense, its mesmerizing prose, and a shocking twist at the end, it’s every bit as good as Scott Turow’s great Presumed Innocent. But it’s also something more: an indelible domestic drama that calls to mind Ordinary People and We Need to Talk About Kevin. A spellbinding and unforgettable literary crime novel.”—Joseph Finder

Defending Jacob is smart, sophisticated, and suspenseful—capturing both the complexity and stunning fragility of family life.”—Lee Child

“Powerful . . . leaves you gasping breathlessly at each shocking revelation.”—Lisa Gardner

“Disturbing, complex, and gripping, Defending Jacob is impossible to put down. William Landay is a stunning talent.”—Carla Neggers

“Riveting, suspenseful, and emotionally searing.”—Linwood Barclay

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345533661
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/03/2013
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 83,954
Product dimensions: 5.36(w) x 7.84(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

William Landay is the author of The Strangler, a Los Angeles Times Favorite Crime Book of the Year, and Mission Flats, winner of the Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for Best First Crime Novel and a Barry Award nominee. A former district attorney who holds degrees from Yale and Boston College Law School, Landay lives in Boston, where he is at work on his next novel of suspense.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
In the Grand Jury  
Mr. Logiudice:     State your name, please.  
Witness:     Andrew Barber.  
Mr. Logiudice:     What do you do for work, Mr. Barber?  
Witness:  I was an assistant district attorney in this county for 22 years.  
Mr. Logiudice:     "Was." What do you do for work now?  
Witness:  I suppose you'd say I'm unemployed.  
In April 2008, Neal Logiudice finally subpoenaed me to appear before the grand jury. By then it was too late. Too late for his case, certainly, but also too late for Logiudice. His reputation was already damaged beyond repair, and his career along with it. A prosecutor can limp along with a damaged reputation for a while, but his colleagues will watch him like wolves and eventually he will be forced out, for the good of the pack. I have seen it many times: an ADA is irreplaceable one day, forgotten the next.  

I have always had a soft spot for Neal Logiudice (pronounced la-JOO-dis). He came to the DA's office a dozen years before this, right out of law school. He was twenty-nine then, short, with thinning hair and a little potbelly. His mouth was overstuffed with teeth; he had to force it shut, like a full suitcase, which left him with a sour, pucker-mouthed expression. I used to get after him not to make this face in front of juries-nobody likes a scold-but he did it unconsciously. He would get up in front of the jury box shaking his head and pursing his lips like a schoolmarm or a priest, and in every juror there stirred a secret desire to vote against him. Inside the office, Logiudice was a bit of an operator and a kiss-ass. He got a lot of teasing. Other ADAs tooled on him endlessly, but he got it from everyone, even people who worked with the office at arm's length-cops, clerks, secretaries, people who did not usually make their contempt for a prosecutor quite so obvious. They called him Milhouse, after a dweeby character on The Simpsons, and they came up with a thousand variations on his name: LoFoolish, LoDoofus, Sid Vicious, Judicious, on and on. But to me, Logiudice was okay. He was just innocent. With the best intentions, he smashed people's lives and never lost a minute of sleep over it. He only went after bad guys, after all. That is the Prosecutor's Fallacy-They are bad guys because I am prosecuting them-and Logiudice was not the first to be fooled by it, so I forgave him for being righteous. I even liked him. I rooted for him precisely because of his oddities, the unpronounceable name, the snaggled teeth-which any of his peers would have had straightened with expensive braces, paid for by Mummy and Daddy-even his naked ambition. I saw something in the guy. An air of sturdiness in the way he bore up under so much rejection, how he just took it and took it. He was obviously a working-class kid determined to get for himself what so many others had simply been handed. In that way, and only in that way, I suppose, he was just like me.  

Now, a dozen years after he arrived in the office, despite all his quirks, he had made it, or nearly made it. Neal Logiudice was First Assistant, the number two man in the Middlesex District Attorney's Office, the DA's right hand and chief trial attorney. He took over the job from me-this kid who once said to me, "Andy, you're exactly what I want to be someday." I should have seen it coming.   In the grand jury room that morning, the jurors were in a sullen, defeated mood. They sat, thirty-odd men and women who had not been clever enough to find a way out of serving, all crammed into those school chairs with teardrop-shaped desks for chair arms. They understood their jobs well enough by now. Grand juries serve for months, and they figure out pretty quickly what the gig is all about: accuse, point your finger, name the wicked one.
A grand jury proceeding is not a trial. There is no judge in the room and no defense lawyer. The prosecutor runs the show. It is an investigation and in theory a check on the prosecutor's power, since the grand jury decides whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to haul a suspect into court for trial. If there is enough evidence, the grand jury grants the prosecutor an indictment, his ticket to Superior Court. If not, they return a "no bill" and the case is over before it begins. In practice, no bills are rare. Most grand juries indict. Why not? They only see one side of the case.  
But in this case, I suspect the jurors knew Logiudice did not have a case. Not today. The truth was not going to be found, not with evidence this stale and tainted, not after everything that had happened. It had been over a year already-over twelve months since the body of a fourteen-year-old boy was found in the woods with three stab wounds arranged in a line across the chest as if he'd been forked with a trident. But it was not the time, so much. It was everything else. Too late, and the grand jury knew it.  

I knew it too.  

Only Logiudice was undeterred. He pursed his lips in that odd way of his. He reviewed his notes on a yellow legal pad, considered his next question. He was doing just what I'd taught him. The voice in his head was mine: Never mind how weak your case is. Stick to the system. Play the game the same way it's been played the last five-hundred-odd years, use the same gutter tactic that has always governed cross-examination-lure, trap, fuck.  

He said, "Do you recall when you first heard about the Rifkin boy's murder?"  
"Describe it."  
"I got a call, I think, first from CPAC-that's thes tate police. Then two more came in right away, one from the Newton police, one from the duty DA. I may have the order wrong, but basically the phone started ringing off the hook."  
"When was this?"  
"Thursday, April 12, 2007, around nine A.M., right after the body was discovered."  
"Why were you called?"  
"I was the First Assistant. I was notified of every murder in the county. It was standard procedure."  
"But you did not keep every case, did you? You did not personally investigate and try every homicide that came in?"  
"No, of course not. I didn't have that kind of time.  I kept very few homicides. Most I assigned to other ADAs."  
"But this one you kept."  
"Did you decide immediately that you were going to keep it for yourself, or did you only decide that later?"  
"I decided almost immediately."  
"Why? Why did you want this case in particular?"  
"I had an understanding with the district attorney, Lynn Canavan: certain cases I would try personally."  
"What sort of cases?"  
"High-priority cases."  
"Why you?"  
"I was the senior trial lawyer in the office. She wanted to be sure that important cases were handled properly."  
"Who decided if a case was high priority?"  
"Me, in the first instance. In consultation with the district attorney, of course, but things tend to move pretty fast at the beginning. There isn't usually time for a meeting."  
"So you decided the Rifkin murder was a high-priority case?"  
"Of course."  
"Because it involved the murder of a child. I think we also had an idea it might blow up, catch the media's attention. It was that kind of case. It happened in a wealthy town, with a wealthy victim. We'd already had a few cases like that. At the beginning we did not know exactly what it was, either. In some ways it looked like a schoolhouse killing, a Columbine thing. Basically, we didn't know what the hell it was, but it smelled like a big case. If it had turned out to be a smaller thing, I would have passed it off later, but in those first few hours I had to be sure everything was done right."  
"Did you inform the district attorney that you had a conflict of interest?"  
"Why not?"  
"Because I didn't have one."  
"Wasn't your son, Jacob, a classmate of the dead boy?"  
"Yes, but I didn't know the victim. Jacob didn't know him either, as far as I was aware. I'd never even heard the dead boy's name."  
"You did not know the kid. All right. But you did know that he and your son were in the same grade at the same middle school in the same town?"  
"And you still didn't think you were conflicted out?  You didn't think your objectivity might be called into question?"  
"No. Of course not."  
"Even in hindsight? You insist, you- Even in hindsight, you still don't feel the circumstances gave even the appearance of a conflict?"  
"No, there was nothing improper about it. There was nothing even unusual about it. The fact that I lived in the town where the murder happened? That was a good thing. In smaller counties, the prosecutor often lives in the community where a crime happens, he often knows the people affected by it. So what? So he wants to catch the murderer even more? That's not a conflict of interest. Look, the bottom line is, I have a conflict with all murderers. That's my job. This was a horrible, horrible crime; it was my job to do something about it. I was determined to do just that."  
"Okay." Logiudice lowered his eyes to his pad. No sense attacking the witness so early in his testimony. He would come back to this point later in the day, no doubt, when I was tired. For now, best to keep the temperature down.  
"You understand your Fifth Amendment rights?"  
"Of course."  
"And you have waived them?"  
"Apparently. I'm here. I'm talking."  
Titters from the grand jury.  
Logiudice laid down his pad, and with it he seemed to set aside his game plan for a moment. "Mr. Barber-Andy-could I just ask you something: why not invoke them? Why not remain silent?" The next sentence he left unsaid: That's what I would do.  
I thought for a moment that this was a tactic, a bit of play acting. But Logiudice seemed to mean it. He was worried I was up to something. He did not want to be tricked, to look like a fool.  
I said, "I have no desire to remain silent. I want the truth to come out."  
"No matter what?"  
"I believe in the system, same as you, same as everyone here."  

Now, this was not exactly true. I do not believe in the court system, at least I do not think it is especially good at finding the truth. No lawyer does. We have all seen too many mistakes, too many bad results. A jury verdict is just a guess-a well-intentioned guess, generally, but you simply cannot tell fact from fiction by taking a vote. And yet, despite all that, I do believe in the power of the ritual. I believe in the religious symbolism, the black robes, the marble-columned courthouses like Greek temples. When we hold a trial, we are saying a mass. We are praying together to do what is right and to be protected from danger, and that is worth doing whether or not our prayers are actually heard.  

Of course, Logiudice did not go in for that sort of solemn bullshit. He lived in the lawyer's binary world, guilty or not guilty, and he was determined to keep me pinned there.  

"You believe in the system, do you?" he sniffed. "All right, Andy, let's get back to it, then. We'll let the system do its work." He gave the jury a knowing, smart-ass look.  

Attaboy, Neal. Don't let the witness jump into bed with the jury-you jump into bed with the jury. Jump in there and snuggle right up beside them under the blanket and leave the witness out in the cold. I smirked. I would have stood up and applauded if I'd been allowed to, because I taught him to do precisely this. Why deny myself a little fatherly pride? I must not have been all bad-I turned Neal Logiudice into a half-decent lawyer, after all.  

"So go on already," I said, nuzzling the jury's neck. "Stop screwing around and get on with it, Neal."  

He gave me a look, then picked up his yellow pad again and scanned it, looking for his place. I could practically read the thought spelled out across his forehead: Lure, trap, fuck. "Okay," he said, "let's pick it up at the aftermath of the murder."  
2 |
Our Crowd  
April 2007: twelve months earlier.  
When the Rifkins opened their home for the shiva, the Jewish period of mourning, it seemed the whole town came. The family would not be allowed to mourn in private. The boy's murder was a public event; the grieving would be as well. The house was so full that when the murmur of conversation occasionally swelled, the whole thing began to feel awkwardly like a party, until the crowd lowered its voice as one, as if an invisible volume knob were being turned.  
I made apologetic faces as I moved through this crowd, repeating "Excuse me," turning this way and that to shuffle by.  

People stared with curious expressions. Someone said, "That's him, that's Andy Barber," but I did not stop. We were four days past the murder now, and everyone knew I was handling the case. They wanted to ask about it, naturally, about suspects and clues and all that, but they did not dare. For the moment, the details of the investigation did not matter, only the raw fact that an innocent kid was dead.  

Murdered! The news sucker-punched them. Newton had no crime to speak of. What the locals knew about violence necessarily came from news reports and TV shows. They had supposed that violent crime was limited to the city, to an underclass of urban hillbillies. They were wrong about that, of course, but they were not fools and they would not have been so shocked by the murder of an adult. What made the Rifkin murder so profane was that it involved one of the town's children. It was a violation of Newton's self-image. For awhile a sign had stood in Newton Centre declaring the place "A Community of Families, A Family of Communities," and you often heard it repeated that Newton was "a good place to raise kids." Which indeed it was. It brimmed with test-prep centers and after-school tutors, karate dojos and Saturday soccer leagues. The town's young parents especially prized this idea of Newton as a child's paradise. Many of them had left the hip, sophisticated city to move here. They had accepted massive expenses, stultifying monotony, and the queasy disappointment of settling for a conventional life. To these ambivalent residents, the whole suburban project made sense only because it was "a good place to raise kids." They had staked everything on it.

Reading Group Guide

A Conversation with William Landay

Random House Readers Circle: What was the  seed of this novel? What drove you to write it? When did you first realize that this was the story you wanted to tell?

William Landay:
There was no single “seed,” honestly. I have never been the visionary sort of writer who  conceives an entire  novel  in a lightning flash of inspiration. I am more  of a  plodder,  an  experimenter. I develop my ideas slowly, by trial and error, teasing them out in draft after draft. It is a slow, tentative process, and it is filled with worry because  I am never quite  sure what   I’m after.  That is how Defending Jacob was born.

To understand where the book came from, it helps to understand where I was at the time.  I had written two novels that were tradi- tional crime stories in the sense that they were set in the street-corner world of cops and hoods. I had been an assistant DA for most of the 1990s, and crime fascinated me. I felt that,  as a writer, I had found my subject. But by the time I began to imagine Defending Jacob, I was thinking of crime in a different   way—and   thinking of crime novels in a different  way  too. By then, I had left the DA’s office to become  a full-time writer, and I had started  my own family. Crime had been an everyday  reality when I was  a courtroom prosecutor; now it was just a memory,  an abstract idea, the stuff I made stories out of. As I thought  about crime  now, from the perspective  of a writer and a young  father, it seemed to me that the questions  that haunt us as parents were not so different from the questions  that animate criminal law: Why do people do what they do? How do we encourage good behavior  and punish bad? How do we understand one another?  How, for example,  do we respond  to the fact  that good  people  do bad  things, or that good  people  are  victimized? Above all, what does crime tell us about ourselves?  That last question, of course, is the reason crime has always fascinated storytellers and audiences: we read (and watch) crime stories not for what they tell us about criminals, but for what they tell us about ourselves. The criminal we read about is us—at  least, he is a little, wicked part of us, all of us.

RHRC: How do you  feel about the concept of the “murder  gene”?

I think it is fashionable now to use DNA as an explanation  for all sorts of behaviors. Genomics is a new  and fast-developing—and seductive—science,  and we tend to think of it in an overly determinative way, as if it explains  everything about us. But we humans are unfathomably complex. None of us is simply our DNA. So I think we have to be careful  when  we encounter  a new idea and a new science like behavioral genetics. We have to be careful  about terms  like “murder gene” and “warrior  gene,”  lest we think of these things, inaccurately,  as simple triggers. The truth is, we are  still  talking about a gene-environment interaction,  still talking  about nature versus nurture,  as we always have. The difference is that now we have a window  into the “nature” side  of the equation.
In some ways, the effect of our physical construction—the chemicals and electrical impulses, the bones and meat we are made of—on our behavior  and character is  a revolutionary idea, a completely new way to think about ourselves.  But in other ways, it is merely  a very old idea that has simply been detailed  a bit by science. We have always understood that we all have certain innate, “hardwired” tendencies and temperaments;  now we understand  the precise mecha- nisms of that physical hard wiring a  little better.  The interesting question for readers  and novelists is what this new  science means.

How should we think about ourselves in light of these new discoveries? What should  society do with the knowledge that some of our neighbors  bear genes predisposing  them to violence or disease or a thousand other human traits? These are rich topics for novelists.

RHRC: Which character in Defending Jacob do you identify with most strongly? Who is your least favorite character?

WL:  The truth is that all the main characters are fragments of myself. We are all many things in the course of our lives, and at various times I have been sullen  and withdrawn like Jacob, warm  and sensi- tive like Laurie, steely and loyal like Andy. When you write a novel, at least a novel as deeply felt as Defending Jacob was to me, you find yourself excavating all these various  aspects of your own personality. On the other  hand, I do not believe the simplistic assumption that all characters in all novels are reflections  of the novelist.  I have created many  characters  that have  felt external  to me—real and credible characters, I hope, but not reflections of me at all, not family. The Barbers  were the first  kind, the sort of characters that are slivers of me. So I find it hard to see them  with any objectivity  or distance, let alone to choose a favorite.  Maybe I will, in time.

With that said, I confess I have a soft spot for Andy, for his stead- fast devotion  to his child even  in the darkest times. Andy is  not perfect, of course. But to me,  even his flaws do him credit. Who would not want  a father  so unshakable, who would stand by you, right or wrong, right to the end?

RHRC: Do you see any of yourself in Andy?

WL:  A little bit, yes. I am stubborn  and doggedly loyal, as Andy is. And my emotions  can cloud my perceptions, though I think everyone is vulnerable to that.
But I can’t quite see myself  in Andy  because I see so many others in him too. When I was a young  lawyer,  there were several older, respected prosecutors   like Andy Barber who were role models for the younger lawyers  coming up. At least they ought to have been. Andy is an amalgam of those older lawyers  whom I admired as a young man. He is the prosecutor  I might  have become if I’d stuck with it for an entire career. I like to think so, at least.

RHRC: What has been the most  surprising aspect of the huge reader response to Defending Jacob?

WL:  Well, to borrow your word,  the sheer hugeness of it. I am still stunned. No writer would  dare imagine that sort of commercial success. No sane writer, anyway. The odds are so long. So many things have to go right, including  a good deal of luck. It is humbling.

I have also  been amazed at the intensity of readers’ reactions. Even now, more  than  a year  after the book was published, I get  email every day from readers who tell me how deeply moved they were by Defending Jacob. Most write to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. A few write because they  are outraged  at Laurie’s or Andy’s behavior—which is to say, they are outraged at me for making them misbehave this way. But for good and bad, the emails  keep pouring in, often beginning with “I have never  written to an author  before, but I just had to tell you . . .”

It has  been a wonderful,  bewildering experience to see my book hit a nerve that way. Writing is a lonely  business.  A writer’s days are filled with silence and solitude   (if he’s  doing it  right). Inside that bubble, while writing, it is easy to believe that the book is a purely private  experience, written only for the writer himself. It  sounds silly,  but you can forget  that other  people will  actually  read your story, let alone that  they might  be deeply touched by it. Books are essentially   a private  medium,  for both the artist and  audience— imagined  by a writer in a lonely  room,  then reimagined by a reader in the quiet of her own thoughts. The public life of books—the brief moment when they show up in book reviews (for those lucky enough to be reviewed), bookstores   (increasingly   rare), or advertisements (rarer still)—has more to do with bookselling  than reading. A book’s essential purpose is to be opened  by a single  reader and read in silence, to slip into her thoughts quietly. So it has been shocking— I don’t  know what  else to call it—to see my book  become such  a public hit. I am very, very grateful for it, for all the readers who have enjoyed the book and written  to let me know. I would like to thank every last one of them, if I could.

RHRC: What are the one or two things readers  have said to you about Defending Jacob that you treasure most?

WL:  The other day, I heard from a woman  whose  teenage son was convicted of murder. The boy served eight and a half years in prison, then took his own life. This  grieving mother wrote to tell me that Defending Jacob had actually  helped her to process what  she had been through,  that the book captured her own feelings and experiences accurately  (“spot-on” was  the phrase  she used),  and that  she wanted to thank  me for writing it. As a parent, it is staggering to imagine that sort of pain. As a novelist,  it is humbling even to imagine that your book might  help someone that way.

Of course, that sort of dramatic email is rare. More often, I hear from readers with the ordinary,  everyday worries of parents: children who communicate too little, stare into their smartphones too much, and wander into all sorts of trouble. Defending Jacob seems to speak to them too.  Jacob Barber  is not so different from a lot of teenagers, really. And Laurie and Andy’s worry about  Jacob and even their fear of him are emotions every parent will recognize, if only in a small way.

RHRC: Both Andy and Laurie Barber  are strong presences in this novel. What do you find are the difficulties  in tackling  male and female characters? Is one more difficult than the other?

WL: The expected answer, I suppose, is that male authors  must find women more difficult to write, and female authors  must struggle to create men.  It is a logical assumption:  the closer one’s own experience is to any subject, the less guesswork must be required. But I am not sure it actually works that way. Personally—and  I don’t pretend to speak for other writers—I  don’t  find my female characters  any more mysterious or elusive than my male characters, at least not as a  rule. There are  difficult people to create, certainly,   but I don’t think the difficulty correlates to gender.

That must sound odd from a writer who has just written  a novel in the voice of a man  very like himself. And it is true that I have written more  male  characters  than female.  But that has mostly been  a  result of the topics I have chosen.  I have  written mostly about the worlds of cops and criminals, and these are dominated by men, still.  But I would love to center a novel  on a woman—a novel not just with a female protagonist,  but actually told from a woman’s point of view, with her sensibility and her voice. Maybe that is foolish, maybe I will  find it more difficult than I expected to write credibly from a woman’s perspective at novel length. But I think one of the worst bits of advice writers hear is “write what you know.”  If  writers  did not feel free to break  that rule and imagine worlds beyond their personal  experience, we would not have so many of our favorite stories and characters,  from Harry Potter to Humbert Humbert. Anyway, if I wanted to do things the easy way,  I probably would not have  become  a writer in the first place.

RHRC: One of the powerful  emotional arcs in this book is the evolution of Laurie and  Andy’s marriage/relationship.  Was this very complicated and intense relationship difficult to write?

WL:  It was difficult in the sense that it was painful to watch these characters suffer so. I like Andy and Laurie. They are my friends,  or would  be but for the fact they are fictional. I like them as a couple too, how they  complement  each other,  how they fit  together.  And the fact  that their lives—Andy’s  work, the town they live in, the stage of life they are in—are  so similar to mine  made their descent especially uncomfortable to watch. This  story hits literally close to home.

But the Barbers’ unraveling was not difficult to create in the sense that it was complex or technically  challenging. Writing  is an em- pathic,  instinctive thing, at  least when  you are  in the heat  of it, building your story sentence by sentence. You don’t stop to calculate which emotion logically fits in a given situation;  you just feel it, you react in real time, and you hope your instincts  are right. (And if you  get it wrong,  the fix is easy enough: throw it away and write it again. And again, and again.) So, was it hard to trace the emotional  arc of Andy and Laurie’s relationship? Yes, but hard like heartbreak, not hard like math.

RHRC: How do you want your readers to feel about Laurie?

WL:  I would  never prescribe how readers ought to feel about any- thing. That’s  their business. But I do think Laurie’s  warmth, her emotional honesty, is something Andy treasures  and sorely misses when  the couple is forced apart by Jacob’s  case. No doubt it was part of what attracted him to her in the first place. Andy’s personality is built on a secret; Laurie seems to have none. At least, she seems to believe  that keeping  secrets  like Andy’s  is  unhealthy.  Whether Andy  really  had a choice about divulging his past, whether it is Andy’s secrecy that  comes back to haunt the family, whether it would have made a difference  if Laurie’s honesty had ruled the household— all that I leave to the reader.

RHRC: If you had investigated  the case, would  you have focused on Jacob, or would  you have gone after Patz?

WL: I would  certainly  have looked into Patz. There is enough smoke there that any good investigator   would have to check it out. One thing that Andy comments  on, which was always my experience too, is that in the early  stages of an investigation  it is very hard to differentiate signal from noise—to tell which  odd-seeming facts are significant evidence and which  are just odd, irrelevant distractions. Once the investigation  fixes on Jacob, it becomes very  hard  for the detectives to see Patz  as anything but a distraction.  But that has as much to do with their own perceptional bias, their “target focus,” as it has to do with the real weight of the evidence. When  the bal- ance tips—when  the weight of evidence truly points to Jacob, if it ever does—that  is up to the reader.

RHRC: If you weren’t a writer, what profession would you choose? Would you practice law again?

  Oh, I could  go on and on. There are so many things I would truly love to do. I doubt I would  go back to practicing law. I am too conflictaverse   and  at  this  point I am  too interested  in  creating things. I would love to do something in the visual arts, in design, photography,  even filmmaking. One of the frustrations of novel-writing is that it is entirely a verbal medium.  As grand and elastic a form as the novel is, it really offers nothing to the visual imagination, to the eye. And nothing  tangible, as the advent of eBooks makes painfully  clear. Yes, a printed  book is a tangible object,  but it is not entirely the author’s own. It  is co-produced  by the publisher.  Only the words are mine.  I love technology too; maybe I would throw myself into the Next Big Thing on the internet.  I would love to start a business.  Maybe get into the shoe business,  which  is what my family has done for several generations  and which  I always  imagined I would go into when I was  a kid.

Or teach. I have always  wanted to teach English in a middle school somewhere, though I suspect I’d be  a lousy teacher (too impatient). The truth is I would need  several lifetimes  to get through all the careers I dream about, but I will never try any of them  because I al- ready have the one job that trumps  them all: writer. What  a remarkable, privileged thing to be. If I never dreamed of becoming  a writer as a kid, it is only because it would  have seemed so preposterous— like saying you were going to become an astronaut or a major-league ballplayer. There were no artists or writers in my world back then. Even now, I feel a little fraudulent  using that word to describe myself; I think of myself as just a guy  who has written a few books,  not a writer. So I consider myself damn lucky to have this job, and I intend to keep it. It is only a handful  of writers who  get to earn their living this way. Not a day goes by that I don’t remember that.

RHRC: Does plot come first for you, or character?

WL: They come at the same time.  I’m not sure I could even separate the two as neatly as the question  implies. Plot is just character in action. Character, in the end, is what you actually do. In my books I design both plot and character to achieve whatever  effect I’m after, to suit whatever subject I’m trying to discuss. One of the pitfalls of dividing our books into genre novels  versus  “literary” novels  is that we have come to expect too little character out of the first and too little plot out of the second, leaving both poorer. A good novel needs both, of course,  and the two should be  wrapped   as tight as the strands in a rope.

RHRC: If  you had  to write Defending  Jacob  again,  would you change any of the major plot points?

I never, ever think that way. For me, when a book  is done, it’s done,  and I move on. I have heard  stories about famous  authors who would take their own published books down off the shelf and obsessively rewrite them over and over. I have never felt that urge. In my experience, as soon as I finish a manuscript,  a happy amnesia settles over me.  I can barely  recall  the details of the book, never mind  feel tempted to rewrite it.  The question of “wrong” creative  choices,  it seems to me, misperceives how stories are made. As a reader, the incidents in a book  feel inevitable. There is a chain  of events: A leads to B leads to C. The reader reacts to that chain in a binary  way: either  she approves or not. But to the writer, who  faces a blank  page (or computer screen) every day, every plot decision involves infinite possibilities. A might lead  to B, but it also might lead  to a thousand   other things. The writer chooses  because he has  to choose. The story must proceed. But he  is  never under  the illusion  that there  is  a  correct   or best choice. Every decision is contingent. Every choice involves compro- mises, tradeoffs, flaws. So he makes his bargain and he moves on.

In the  case of Defending Jacob, the ending has received  a lot of attention, understandably. But the novel  might  have ended a differ- ent way—or  ten different ways. In fact, the published novel does not end the way my original manuscript did. Is the final version better, is it the “right” ending?  There is no way to answer that question. My advice to writers: don’t look back. As Satchel Paige said, “Something may be gaining  on you.”

RHRC: Which  authors  do you admire and why?

WL:  This  is a common  question  and one I hate because my reading is so random. I tend to read whatever  catches my interest at the moment, from the current fiction lists or the classics. I have loved books by a  crazily varied list  of authors:  Austen and Dickens,  Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Larry McMurtry and E. L. Doctorow (particularly Billy  Bathgate), Bellow and  Roth and  Updike, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes, Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon. On and on.
I do find it difficult to read when I’m writing, however. The part of a reader’s imagination that a good novel  occupies is the very same space that  a novelist uses to dream up his own original stories. So I often fall back on nonfiction when I am writing, lest I start stealing from someone else or, worse,  being led astray by my betters, writing their stories rather than my own.

RHRC: If you had to cite just one novel aspiring  writers should read before starting  to write their own work, what would it be?

WL:  I think the answer would  be different  for everyone. The books that inspired  me to write likely would not have the same effect on others. That is the nature of reading. Those magical, electric reading experiences—the  unforgettable  books that are  seared  into us and mark us for life—depend on so many things  besides the book itself. It happens when  the right reader opens the right book  at just the right moment in her life. It is like dating. All of us who are devoted readers have had the experience of meeting the same book twice and feeling  completely different  about it.  At eighteen,  I hated  Moby Dick;  at thirty, I was blown away by it. So it goes.

I am also  a very  slow reader, so I haven’t racked up the mile-long reading lists that other writers have. Worse, I tend to reread my fa- vorites, especially as I get older. I find I enjoy  the company of old friends like The  Great Gatsby more than the sexy new titles at the front of the bookstore.  And of course I read with a  professional’s eye now.  I try to take apart every book to see how  it works, how it was built, to see what  I can take from it.

So I would not presume to tell any aspiring writer what she ought to read. Personally,  I have loved Fitzgerald  and Hemingway,  those polestars of the tender and tough schools  of romantic writing. Roth and Bellow too. I always  have Ian McEwan nearby; when I am stuck in my own writing, I often read McEwan  just to hear the sound  of good English prose and get myself  moving  again. Works every time. I have enjoyed  the richer sort of genre stuff like Scott Turow  and John le Carré (especially A Perfect Spy), and  I’ve enjoyed Stephen King and Elmore Leonard too. I have enjoyed  a lot of “good bad books,” as George Orwell called them, pop novels like The  Godfather.  And I have  made  sure to work in a  few classics,  especially Dickens. I read screenplays,  as well, to learn about  dialogue  and how to structure  a plot. So that is my haphazard list. At least, it is the bits that come immediately to mind.  The main thing for any aspiring  author is: read. Just read. Read anything  at all that excites you. Don’t  worry about how sophisticated or impressive your list sounds. Don’t worry what people will think. If you like junk, read junk. Find a book  that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, then pull that book  apart scene by scene and figure out how the author did it. Then go do it your- self.

1. How would  you have handled this situation if you were Andy?  Would you make the same choices he made? Where  would  you differ the most?

2. Before  and during the trial, how would you have handled  the situation if  you were Laurie? Do you feel she made  strong choices as a mother  and a wife?

3.  Is Andy  a good father?  Why or why not?

4. Do you  believe Jacob is guilty?

5. Is Jacob a product  of his upbringing? Do you think he is a violent person  because his environment   made him violent, or do you think he has had violent inclinations  since birth?

6. How  do you think  people  could  or  should stop adolescent bullying?

7. How much of a factor did Jacob’s age play  into your sympathies for him or lack thereof? If  Jacob were  seventeen,  would you view him differently?  What about if he were nine?

8. Do you think Neal Logiudice acts ethically in this novel? What about Andy?

9. What is the most damning  piece of evidence against  Jacob? Is there anything that you felt exonerated him?

10.  If Jacob hadn’t been accused, how do you think his life would have turned  out? What kind of a man  do you think he would grow up to be?

From the B&N Reads Blog

Customer Reviews