A lawyer offers a series of brief reflections—personal, political, and literary.
Debut author Mayer was a successful attorney—“I made more money than I thought anyone could spend”—but was also inclined to meandering intellectual peregrinations, as evidenced by this eclectic assortment of essays. He covers an extraordinary expanse of meditative territory, discussing by turns matters both personal and philosophical. Many of the chapters—mostly very short and comprised of quick, reflective paragraphs almost aphoristic in their concision—explore the author’s obvious love of literature. A prodigious reader, Mayer opines on Herman Hesse, Ernest Hemingway, Céline, and Flannery O’Connor, among many others, and returns more than once to those books that exerted a lasting influence on him, like Albert Camus’ The Stranger. Some of his most trenchant aperçus come in the form of ruminations on his literary favorites: “We cannot solve the problem of suffering because we have fallen. Belief does not insure happiness and perhaps happiness does not even exist at our deeper levels. What does exist in Ms. O’Connor’s world is Grace. Grace is not deserved or demanded—it just is.” Mayer also touches on a host of other diverse subjects, including his career; friends and family; celebrities that apparently interest him; and the vexing nature of partisan politics. In one of the volume’s highlights, “Clarence Darrow as Told by Earl Rogers,” Rogers details his impressive claim to minor fame—the lawyer once defended the legendary attorney Darrow in a jury bribery trial in Los Angeles.
Mayer, who is often facetious and wryly ironic, has Rogers voice these fictional claims in the essay: “Darrow would not be in the top one hundred trial lawyers ranked by those who know something about it. I would easily be in the top five and maybe first. Still, you have never heard of me.” The author has a lively and free-ranging mind and writes in lucidly elegant prose: “The question remains, can an immoral person be a genius and leave us something of lasting value? I believe so. A sinner sees things that virtuous people cannot see and genius is a gift from the gods that we best not squander.” The political essays are the least satisfying since they have an axe-grinding partisan bent that’s simply incompatible with either thoughtfulness or rigor: “Modern Conservatives hate the premise that we must be communal to survive and prosper. They see life as violent and a zero sum game.” In addition, the assemblage of essays as a whole has no discernible thematic core, some tonal key to which the parts intelligibly recur, other than the fact that they are all emanations of a single author’s mind. Further, the volume is not a particularly personal memoir, neither an autobiographical chronicle nor an emotional confessional. This compels the question: For whom is this book intended? In fact, given the peripatetic character of the essays and their almost outlinelike brevity, Mayer’s work doesn’t read as if it was envisioned for general consumption.
A collection of essays with many virtues.