Hope I am not violating any confidences here, or being unduly self-serving. (The barest bit self-serving I see no need to apologize for.) Someone I know who read my unpublished novel "Getting It" sent me these thoughts, which I believe the writer does not plan to use and that I can pass on so long as he/she is not identified. Anyway, here goes:
Who’s not sick and tired of short stories, novels, sitcoms, and movies with or about lawyers? And then, here comes Daniel Shaviro with a fresh, amazing, and so literary novel entitled “Getting It.” I must say, reading it during the long MLK weekend – when we probably are not supposed to be so happy about the world - it really made my weekend!
First of all, the writing is flawless, and I suspect, in my total ignorance of his previous literary sins, that Shaviro made his way to such a skill through many other works that I don’t know anything about. [Not so, actually, unless you count books and articles on my law and policy interests. – DS]
OK, a novel that takes place in the environment of a leading law firm, with a lot of “legal lingo." However, Daniel makes it very easy for the lay person to understand even the most “professional” implications. Cleverly enough, he places his action in 1984, before Shepard’s was online—which gives him the opportunity to explain the reader what “Shepardizing a case” is. He does this in a very natural way, without creating too many asides from the plot, here and with other legal or legal research matters, explaining terminology and approaches as needed. Therefore the novel appeals to a variety of readers. As far as I was concerned, I couldn’t let it go, once I started to be captivated by the plot. Three associates (Doberman, Stellworth, and Porter) are running for the only open spot to make partner, and have to prove that they deserve it to one of the senior partners (Crossley). All this would be done through ways and means determined by their own qualities and shortcomings, by their distinctive personalities. Shaviro plays a kind of mathematical/geometrical game here. He describes his characters in a parallel way (e.g., the way each is perceived by the law firm secretaries; their arts interests and family values, etc), but then he cuts it short with an amazing couple of sentences: “Crossley hated everyone there, including himself. Doberman and Stellworth each hated everyone except himself. Porter hated himself.”
Well, this happens on page 11, and then there are more than 200 pages to prove it. And, yes, it’s true! Intrigues, hide-and-seek, manipulation, some remarkable women figures (Lyla, Gidget, Janet) -- everything develops at a very balanced pace, in a novel that goes beyond the inner circle of the players, attempting to say something more general about society, rotten characters, ambitions, but also about humble people (who may be full of potential, but not aggressive and ruthless, such as Porter) . The tone is sympathetically-cynical, in an original manner, reminding sometimes the best of Philip Roth or Thomas Wolfe. The sense of humor is dry, rather British, and involves references that range from the classics to popular culture. In the end, the most complex character proves to be Doberman, a unique texture of intelligence, ambition, ruthlessness, lack of feelings, and selfishness. He is the true hero of our times! Don’t forget, though, all this happened more than 20 years ago.
But, then, what is 20 years in History?
This novel that does not show the typical hesitations or uncertainties of a first-timer. The emotional tension is nerve-racking, the psychological insight deep and convincing. Shaviro masters both the colloquial dialogue and the parallel storytelling, which in the end is unified by the verdict. “As the ancient Greeks had the Mysteries of Eleusis, so Asby & Cinders had its annual partnership meeting.” [Plot details omitted - DS.]
No moral, whatsoever, but maybe a hint that manipulation, bad faith, selfishness, and egomania do not always pay in the end.