Defending Jacob is the story of Jacob Barber, a fourteen year old from Newton, MA, accused of stabbing one of his classmates to death. Andy Barber, Jacob’s father and an assistant district attorney narrates the tale, covering the roughly six month period between the murder, the trial, and its aftermath. It’s a fast read if you’re in the mood for a courtroom saga with plenty of twists and turns.
Andy is pretty prickly and unlikable. It was hard for me to empathize with him in the first 100 pages. He seems so blinded to the possibility that his son may be guilty that he’s a bit hard to take. He’s also a bit hard to take because he doesn’t seem to realize what’s going on with his wife Laurie or his son Jacob as they suffer through this ordeal. Maybe the whole point is that he’s supposed to be so thoroughly unlikable and so thoroughly blind to the possibility that his son is a killer: we the readers are in the same place his wife is in.
Another reason it’s hard to empathize with any of the characters in the book, most of all Andy, is that the book is driven by dialogue. It feels very much like a screenplay: lots of dialogue, lots of short scenes. Of course any crime thriller involves a lot of conversations or interrogations with witnesses and suspects, but not every thriller contains mostly dialogue. It’s harder to get a sense of the characters’ interior lives because there’s more dialogue than narration.
The main asset of this book is the plot, which is laden with twists. I think the book definitely picks up once Jacob’s trial begins. Landay doesn’t spend as much time delving into Laurie and Jacob’s minds, which I think is a disadvantage of the book. Defending Jacob is more of a thriller than a psychological thriller. For books that take on being the mother of an accused killer, I also recommend We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and Before and After by Rosellen Brown.
DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay
Publication date: January 31, 2012
Source: Publisher via NetGalley