Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sarang's Sua Sponte

Sarang's latest effort, Sua Sponte, marks something of a comeback for the reclusive novelist.  Critics savaged his previous novel, Without Wax, and the drubbing was so severe that some doubted he would ever write again.  Personally I think the critical reaction was unfair.  The novel was ambitious and perhaps a bit smug, but it didn't deserve the almost universal opprobrium it received.  To put it into context, there had recently been a spate of novels featuring unreliable narrators, an approach the critics rightly bemoaned as tired and tiring.  Nevertheless, the critics were not amused when Sarang, by way of parody, introduced a hyper-reliable narrator, a tax professional who not only recounted the weather and headlines with complete fidelity, but who also divulged his "real" phone number.  Dial that number, and you would be connected to one of several dozen actors Sarang hired to help you with your personal issues while staying "in character" as the narrator.  The critics called this level of narratorial reliability a "stunt" and a "gimmick," though this didn't prevent them from dialing the number when tax season came around.

Sua Sponte could also be called a gimmick of sorts, but it is a very different kind of book.  Sarang took his inspiration from the true story of a judge who presided over a rape trial that resulted in a wrongful conviction.  Although the defendant was freed years later, his life was ruined, and he was picked up on drug charges.  Recognizing the defendant, the judge dismissed all charges immediately, to the consternation of the prosecutors.

The only element that links the 12 stories in Sua Sponte is that in each story, a character appears before the same judge twice.  A bankruptcy judge urges a chapter 7 debtor to think twice before reaffirming his debt (a process in which someone entitled to discharge his debt nevertheless voluntarily incurs the legal obligation to repay it).  But the debtor can't be dissuaded, and a decade later, the same debtor is back before the court, never having escaped the debt burden from his prior reaffirmation.

By the time you have read two or three stories, you find yourself spending a lot of time trying to predict what will bring about the second judicial encounter.  One story starts with an acrimonious divorce, and I found myself wondering where it would end—perhaps with a murder trial?  In fact that story ends happily, with the same judge presiding over the remarriage of the couple.

The final story in Sua Sponte opens with an emotionally charged courtroom scene.  A man has had sex with a mentally disabled young woman, and the prosecutors are seeking a rape conviction on the grounds that she can't consent.  But she did consent, the alleged victim insists.  She wanted to do it, and she is an adult.  The woman's parents are outraged the judge is even allowing this testimony, but the judge hears her out.

Eventually, the defense attorney successfully argues that his client (who is also mentally disabled) didn't commit a crime, but after the acquittal we wait in torment for the hammer to drop.  Which character will end up back in criminal court, and why?  Manipulative, maybe, but there's a term for manipulating emotions as well as Sarang does:  great writing.


Post a Comment

<< Home