Summer Reads: The Pelican Brief


Yeah, so not going to read this again.
Yeah, am so not going to read this one again.

Ok so I finished the Pelican Brief yesterday, and have a few thoughts on it. In my last post I said that I remember reading it like it was going to catch fire, and that I looked forward to rereading. Well, I guess the twenty years that have passed since I bought and read it first time, has changed me considerably, because this time around I honestly thought it was stupid. Not bad per say, just incredibly stupid.

The plot is all legal/political thriller, supposedly centering around Darby Shaw, who has miraculously come up with the one true theory about who and why two supreme court justices have been murdered. She writes a brief (The Pelican Brief of the title) and it gets passed up in the system until it’s in the hands of the president. From there the brief causes all kinds of mayhem, starting off with her lover being killed by a bomb that was meant for her. So Darby is on the run from everybody and only trusts two people. One gets killed and she turns to Gray Grantham, star journalist on the Washington Post. With the promise of the scoop of the century, comparisons are made to Watergate, they help eachother untangle the mysteries of the story, which is more about getting the story confirmed so they can print the paper, than it is an investigation.

There are so many clichees in this story it is mind bending. The political games, the inter agency wars of FBI and CIA, the total corruptness of lawyers, the superiority of the arab hit man, the mad crazy scramble for oil and riches, but the stupidist thing in this book is Darby Shaw. Billed as a main character, she is hardly more than a token woman in the story. Apart from a few single scene occurences, she is the only woman in the story with a story line, every bad guy, every politician, every other main character with a small or big part of the story is male.  Whenever there is another woman in the stor, they are obstacles to overcome. Secretaries who are overly protective of their bosses, a female registrar who is suspicious and glaring, students who has to be tracked down, a widow who isn’t quick enough to overcome her dazed grief to reveal the clue she is holding.

Darby herself is of course beautiful and brilliantly smart,  and on the run from pursuers she manages to foil at every god damn turn. BLA BLA BLA. But it is the way the men, who chase/help/protect her, see her that is truly vomit inducing. Not one man in the book, who lay eyes on her, either in person, or in a photograph, does not  comment in some way on her long long legs, her hair and whatever womanly traits she has stuffed into an oversized sweater. Villans and heroes alike, all admire her amazing beauty and turn to blithering idiots around her.

Gray Grantham is of course her new love interest. Again, it is all about the fatherly protectiveness she awakens in him when he meets her, her vulnerability, her immense beauty and her dazzling smarts. It boggles my mind how I, first time around, saw this as romantic and great, because it is really stupid. It is stilted and unbelievable as hell. When you see the story from Darby’s POV she is afraid, scared, hyped up from running and mourning the loss of her lover. She doesn’t seem to be overly attracted to Gray, though she feels safe with him around. Gray is of course attracted to her, even though most of their conversation is about how she bosses him around. Grisham really writes men as single minded bastards.

One incident stood out particularly well as really weird behaviour in this regard.

Darby has finally made it to Washington after having been chased out of New Orleans and New York. Gray is being followed and bugged and following her orders, moves into a hotel, so he can escape those watching and listening. They meet up at a small Inn.

She was sitting at table thirty-seven, in a dark corner of the tiny restaurant when he found her at exactly nine. The first thing he noticed was the dress, and as he walked to the table he knew the legs were under it but he couldn’t see them. Maybe later when she stood. He wore a coat and tie, and they were an attractive couple.

This is a man who is chasing down the story of a century, and the thing on his mind is her legs and her dress. Come on. The story continues:

He sat close to her in the darkness so they could both watch the small crowd. The Tabard Inn appeared old enough to have served food to Thomas Jefferson. A rowdy crowd of Germans laughed and talked on the patio outside the restaurant. The windows were open and the air was cool, and for one brief moment it was easy to forget why they were hiding.

“Where’d you get the dress?”

“You like it?”

“It’s very nice.”

“I shopped a little this afternoon. Like most of my recent wardrobe, it’s disposable. I’ll probably leave it in the room the next time I flee for my life.”

OH MY GOD. This is a woman who has been tried murdered at least twice, a woman who has been running scared for a couple of weeks and this is the dialogue Grisham makes them have? Talk about her dress? And Darby doesn’t slap Gray down for it?  No she just basks in the glorious attention of a man.

A little further down the same page:

“I’d like to wire some [money] from my bank in New Orleans.”

“We’ll do it Monday. I think you’re safe, Darby.”

“I’ve thought that before. In fact, I felt very safe when I was getting on the boat with Verheek, except it wasn’t Verheek. And I felt very safe in New York. Then Stump waddled down the sidewalk, and I haven’t eaten since.”

Now, here is a woman who is talking about her fears, about how she’s been chased, and she gives off a vibe of uncertainty, fear is getting to her, she is loosing appetite. Guess what Gray chooses to say.

“You look thin.”

Not as a man who is concerned for her well being. As a compliment, as if by talking about her fears and their causes, she is just angling for compliments. Her reply does nothing to persuade me to think differently:

“Thanks. I guess. Have you eaten here?” She looked at her menu.

This is probably the most stupid piece of dialogue that I remember reading, ever.

Its safe to say that I don’t buy into the whole Gray/Darby lovestory. There is a token mention of her former lover here and there, but it’s just not plausible that within two weeks, Darby can go from mourning her lost lover to being in love with Gray Grantham, not on top of everything that takes place around her. It is stupid. Darby starts out as a strong willed character, but I when I turned the last pages I had lost most of my respect for her.

I think if Grisham had written the book, making Darby a guy it would have turned out much more plausible. He could have cut out the love portion of the book and avoided writing from a woman’s POV. It would probably have been a better book for it.

So, I guess The Pelican Brief is a book I don’t need to reread again. I wonder if I reread The Client or A Time to Kill, would they let down as well. I hope not because I really liked those books.



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