OUTSIDE THE LAW by Susan Richards Shreve


Narratives on Justice in America
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 Good idea, disappointing result. Novelist Shreve (The Visiting Physician, 1996, etc.) and her novelist-to-be son, Porter, have collected short essays on justice authored not by lawyers or academics, but by writers addressing the subject through personal narratives. Running throughout these contributions is a central theme captured in the title: Justice cannot be reduced to questions of law. Unfortunately, the volume ultimately does not quite work. Selections that reflect personal experience, such as Richard Bausch's recollection of a racist remark made to a friend during his childhood, or a journalistic report, such as Blanche McCrary Boyd's account of the trial of Susan Smith, expose the potent emotions and nagging doubts that can surface when notions of justice are counterposed to clearcut questions of innocence or guilt. In contrast, the less focused and more abstract sets of reflections, notably John Casey's rather lengthy discussion of how questions of justice ``nourish'' fictional works, seem pallid and out of place. While the former outnumber the latter, however, in the end the whole volume adds up to less than the sum of its parts. The better essays are suggestive, but none are conclusive, and the overall effect is to leave the reader hanging in many different ways rather than illuminating the subject from a variety of perspectives. The premise that justice cannot be codified because it is a function of the complexities of real life is not only worth exploring, it may positively require more lengthy exploration than can be derived from short essays.

Pub Date: July 21st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8070-4406-7
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997


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