Picture a character like Entourage’s Ari Gold or Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko. He’s high-powered, hard-driving, arrogant, misanthropic and politically incorrect. He has a knack for turning out bitter bon mots that simultaneously frighten and amuse. Now imagine him as the hiring partner at one of the nation’s top law firms, venting his spleen on the Internet through an anonymous blog. The result might look something like Jeremy Blachman’s debut novel, Anonymous Lawyer.
The novel—no surprise—grew out of the blog (www.anonymouslawyer.blogspot.com), which Mr. Blachman started while he was still a student at Harvard Law School. Anonymous and fictional (it was written from the perspective of a hiring partner at a top law firm), his blog nonetheless became a must-read among disgruntled law-firm associates around the country, who identified with its unsparing portrait of the white-collar salt mines that are America’s largest law firms (a.k.a. “Biglaw”). After Mr. Blachman publicly revealed himself as the blog’s author in a New York Times interview, he landed a book deal; Anonymous Lawyer is the result. A television pilot is also in the works. (These successes have allowed Mr. Blachman—whose only direct exposure to Biglaw life was a stint as a summer associate at the New York firm of Willkie, Farr & Gallagher—to escape the fate he so ably chronicles.)
So yes, Anonymous Lawyer is yet another blog-turned-book. But unlike many other blog-based novels, in which anonymous blogging is merely a plot element (Ana Marie Cox’s Dog Days, say, or Jessica Cutler’s Washingtonienne), blogging here provides both form and content. The narrative unfolds in eight weeks’ worth of posts penned by the protagonist, along with related e-mail exchanges—most notably between Anonymous Lawyer and Anonymous Niece, an incoming Yale Law School student who serves as Anonymous’ confidante during his foray into the blogosphere. The prose is not finely wrought, in the manner of Kermit Roosevelt’s recent legal novel In the Shadow of the Law; instead, Anonymous Lawyer partakes of the breezy, casual style of cyber-communication.
The novel, luckily, has more of a plot than the blog, with the chairmanship of the law firm serving as the MacGuffin: Anonymous is after the top job, and to get it he must outmaneuver his archrival, “The Jerk.” Inevitably, predictably, the secret blog that Anonymous has been maintaining complicates matters.
The obvious objection to all this is that a Biglaw hiring partner would never maintain a blog in which he mercilessly mocks his colleagues (with monikers such as “The Guy With the Giant Mole,” “Lives With His Mom” and “Closet Lesbian”), dishes out office gossip and discusses his strategic jockeying for the chairmanship (which a true Machiavellian would never do). When Mr. Blachman explains how his protagonist got into blogging in the first place, the motivations offered are not entirely convincing. If Anonymous had wanted a literary outlet, “a place to write about life,” he could have just written novels on the side (à la Scott Turow or Louis Begley). If he’d wanted to vent about work or to achieve greater self-awareness, therapy would have been more effective—and less risky.
But enough quibbling. After you buckle the seatbelt of suspended disbelief, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. Anonymous Lawyer is a quick, fun read—you could finish it in a single afternoon at the beach—and it offers occasional moments of genuine humor. Consider this riff on the film clips that Anonymous screens for incoming summer associates: “I showed a clip from Brokeback Mountain, which I think was done a tremendous disservice when they pitched it as a gay cowboy movie …. [I]t was fairly clear from the trailer that the point of the movie is that it’s great to have a job that consumes most of your day …. I [also] showed a clip from March of the Penguins for an example of mindless work performed without complaint. The penguins march back and forth to and from the ocean, a long and arduous march in the cold on which many perish, yet none ever bitch and moan. They just do it.”
Although generally enjoyable, Mr. Blachman’s satire is not unerring; some of it could have been more finely calibrated. Or, anyway, less broad: Refugees from large-firm practice will read about an associate missing her own child’s funeral and think that firm life was bad, but never that bad.
The book is briskly plotted. The blog and e-mail format, surprisingly, offers the satisfactions of good old-fashioned storytelling: Events reach a climactic state fairly early, about halfway through the novel, and the balance of the story is a fast-paced unraveling of the different threads. The suspense keeps you turning pages even after the novel’s other main draw—the narrator’s wicked wit—begins to overstay its welcome.
David Lat founded the judicial-gossip blog Underneath Their Robes (underneaththeirrobes.blogs.com) and will launch a new legal blog, Above the Law (www.abovethelaw.com), later this summer. He has worked as a federal prosecutor, law-firm associate and federal law clerk.
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