Monday, June 21, 2010

The Associates

I loved The Paper Chase. It arrived on TV in 1978 and, a critical darling but ratings nonstarter, lasted only one season.

So, being the kind of person I am, I tracked down the book (by John Jay Osborn Jr.) that inspired it. I read it. I loved it. I read it again. I've probably read it three times over the years.

The show returned to TV for a second and third season on Showtime, and I had the good fortune to have Showtime then and got to watch them all.

I really liked the character Hart, the protagonist, the Iowa boy now struggling through law school.

Did I mention I grew up in Iowa?

Anyway, in the throes of Paper Chase fever, I purchased another novel by the same author, The Associates.

I stuck it on my shelf, planning to read it.

Flash forward two or three decades.

I grabbed The Associates from my shelf last week. I read it.

It's the story of a guy just starting out in a big NY law firm. He confronts some stereotypical partners and falls in love with a fellow associate at the firm, a headstrong divorcee.

The book is written in a chunky, episodic style and suffers a little from being, well, very seventies. The characters, their assumptions, their stereotypes, all belong to another age. It took a long time for me to get drawn in to the novel, and I did end up enjoying it, but nowhere near on a Paper Chase level. If nothing else, its depiction of the pressures involved with working in a big law office made me happy my Paper Chase induced flirtation with going to law school never panned out.

Structurally, I can see similarities to the arc of The Paper Chase - a young midwest guy as fish out of water, romance with a "liberated" gal, a wise but distant mentor, a philosophically minded pal, a race to conclude a big law project, the discarding of traditional values at novel's end. But The Associates just never clicked for me. I can see, however, why the novel spawned a(nother short-lived) TV series, since the set up and broad strokes of young folks versus partners plus political and romantic tensions has a strong appeal (and I suspect L.A. Law somewhat fulfilled this).  Fun fact: the TV series starred a young Martin Short.

As a novelist, Osborn ended up penning one more (which I wouldn't mind reading - I like Osborn's style), then seems to have given it up, remaining a law professor. Kingsfield's shadow looms large, and it seems Osborn ended up trying to step into his creation's footsteps.

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