Nussbaum’s meaningful look at the strength it takes to shed the person you thought you were to become the person you were meant to be.
J.J. Spencer has just completed his first year as an associate at a prestigious New York law firm. He has the expensive suits, the nice apartment and the requisite attitude. On the surface, J.J. has accomplished everything he has set out to do, but a moment of compassion toward two strangers costs him dearly. The subsequent action chronicles J.J.’s demise and redemption when, having lost his cushy job, he is forced to re-examine his goals. Enrolling in law school straight after college (because, everyone agreed, it was “a good degree to have”), he’s spent his life trying to please his mother, escape his abusive father and prevent his talented, though eccentric, younger brother from making the same mistakes. Weaving in and out of J.J.’s past, the plot finds strength in witty dialogue and exploration of J.J.’s relationships with family, friends and colleagues, all the while keeping a balance between tragedy and comedy. J.J.’s past is marked with warning signs: He rose to legal stardom under the tutelage of a famous professor whose misery foreshadows J.J.’s own, and he loved the right girl but picked another because she conformed to the life he felt pressured to have. Nussbaum (Blue Road to Atlantis, 2002) occasionally waxes sentimental, but effective elements, like J.J.’s diligent practice of karate in hopes of earning a black belt, work to illustrate his search for meaning. J.J.’s flaws inform his humanity, and he remains a character worth routing for, even as he falls. Ultimately, this is a comforting novel—not because readers have suddenly found their way at its conclusion, but because they realize they are not alone in the search.
Bittersweet and unflinchingly real.