Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On Lawyering and Reading.

Early November I recieved an email from author Brian Cohen, who asked me to read his debut novel and review it. I recoeved it halfway through November and told him that it would be until after exams before I got to it. Now that I have read it, and wasted a month on exams, I wish I had read it earlier.


On the outside, Nick O’Reilly has it all: a high-flying legal career, as a partner of an elite Wall Street law firm, and financial security, with an apartment overlooking Central Park. Having grown up in a working-class family, as far back as Nick can remember this was his dream. But at the age of thirty-six, after several years of sacrificing his personal life for professional gain, Nick has started to ponder his future and consider the mark he wants to leave on society both professionally and personally—his legacy.

After being chastised in the press for turning a cold shoulder to the community, the firm calls upon Nick to help rehabilitate its image by handling its first pro bono case. Nick is asked to represent Dawn Nelson, a domestic violence victim who is fighting for custody of her young son, Jordan. A far cry from Nick’s specialty of defending the misdeeds of Corporate America, it is up to Nick to set Dawn and Jordan on a path to a better life. But Nick gets much more than he signed on for, as Dawn forces him to reassess his life choices and, ultimately, be true to himself. Only when Nick finally realizes what is truly important in life does he face his toughest—and possibly final—challenge: a battle for his own survival.

Exploring the flaws of being human and the importance of controlling one’s own destiny, The Life O’Reilly reminds us of how precious life is and how quickly and tragically it can change. Written with great empathy, The Life O’Reilly is an emotional and unforgettable tale that will challenge one’s expectations of the modern love story.

In short, it is a book that starts at the precipice of a young lawyer's patience with the modern day practice of law - and this is, in fact, one of the tenants of the book, I think.

Law, these days, is like a death grip of life, that sucks out all the marrow from yours bones, leaving you listless and bitter inside. Or at least, that's what my dealings in anyone who underwent law school and the legal profession after the mid-90s thinks.

This book opens the same way:

"As usual, I was bogged down with briefs and had to simultaneously juggle a couple of other bullshit tasks that, although unexpected, were very much routine and kept me in the office until eleven-thirty every night."

The life of a lawyer, right? *grumble, why me?, grumble*

Anyways, this all seems to change when Nick, our main character, gets a pro bono (i.e. free, for those among us who are not legalese inclined) case involving a domestic matter for a woman named Dawn and her son. Nick's life then goes from monotony to chaos in a few short months, culminating in the long anticipated, and made me stay up until 4 to get to it, kiss that really begins the chaos of Nick's life.

Since I don't want to spoil this for anyone, I think I will focus on the message this book encompasses: Live life. It takes the main character thirty odd years to discover this, but the whole point of life is to live, not to make money or achieve status. And I think this book really brings home that point with a long discussion of "legacy". Mainly: what do you want your legacy to be?
"His headstone - what does it say on his headstone?"
"How dare you!"
"Oh, shut up already, Phil," I said unflinchingly, staring straight ahead at Will.
"Quite frankly, I don't remember. I haven't been there in a while. And who do you think you are, asking me a question like that?" he said, sternly.
"Why haven't you been there in a while, Will? He was your father, wasn't he?"

This conversation takes place after Nick begins to realize that firm life isn't a life at all, and I must say, the second that line was out of his mouth I cheered. Literally, grinned and went, "Finally!" and the BF was like, "Finally what?" and I told him all about this. (He then gave me a pitying look, and I am not sure if that is because I am a law student and doomed, or because I talk to my books).

It is the moments like that - and the last 3/4 of the book are full of them, that really make this such a great, and heartbreaking story. It was well written and though it dragged at the beginning, and contained a lot of legalese, it was a great read, that made me laugh and tear up.

I highly recommend this for those of you who need a little perspective, and I honestly think that - though usually I hate open endings - the ending for this book reinforces the message of the story, and I think you readers out there would really enjoy it.

Thanks! :)

Links for stuff:
Brian's Website:
Reading Guide (warning: Contains spoilers!)


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