By Scott Turow
Grand Central Publishing, 416 pages, $27.99
"I found there is real poetry in the ways people can't help making the same mistakes. I have learned to never be surprised when people don't change." - Scott Turow
By Rick Kogan, Tribune reporter
It is a question that has bedeviled writers, confounded critics but, frankly, never occurs to most of those who like to grab a book and head to the beach: What makes a novel?
Here is one answer: a Post-it note with the words, "A man is sitting on a bed on which a dead woman lies."
The words came to Scott Turow a few years ago, and the note on which he wrote those words sat stuck to his desk "until I visualized the man and the woman as Rusty and his wife, Barbara."
That would be Rusty as in Rusty Sabich who, as millions of people (readers and moviegoers) know, is the protagonist of "Presumed Innocent," a book that redefined crime-courtroom writing. Published in 1987, it was a 1990 movie starring Harrison Ford. Though Turow, who was and remains a practicing attorney, has since had many titles hit the New York Times best-seller list - "The Burden of Proof," "Reversible Errors" and "Ordinary Heroes" to name but three - none stayed as long as "Presumed Innocent," which camped out there for nearly a year.
"There was never any pressure from my publisher to write another Rusty book," he says. "Any pressure was self-inflicted. I am the one who put the vulture on my shoulder."
Sitting in the large and sunlight-splashed kitchen of his north suburban house a few weeks ago Turow says, "The question - who killed this woman? - was so exciting that whatever stop signs I may have encountered I simply blew past. I found myself really interested in the fate, the life of this man a couple of years older than I am.
"And he's certainly no better with age," says Turow, who just turned 61. "I found there is real poetry in the ways people can't help making the same mistakes. I have learned to never be surprised when people don't change."
Sabich is among contemporary literature's most ambiguous and compelling characters, and readers are likely to find him more so in "Innocent," as he goes on trial for the murder of his wife. He has become the chief judge of the appellate court and is being prosecuted by his longtime nemesis, Tommy Molto. There are twists and turns, of course, and a fine cast of new characters, most interestingly Rusty and Barbara's grown son Nat.
Innocent The book should suffer not at all by comparison with "Presumed." A novelist learns much in 20 years, and there is good reason that Stephen King calls this book "driving, unputdownable."
King is a pal, and he and Turow are members of the Rock Bottom Remainders, that rock band of authors (Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Amy Tan, et al.) that performs for fun and to benefit literacy groups and other charitable endeavors. (Full disclosure: Turow wrote a very complimentary jacket blurb for the 2001 book "Everybody Pays" that I wrote with my former Tribune colleague Maurice Possley.)
There is a packed suitcase sitting in the hallway of Turow's house, and he explains that he is off in a few hours to Washington, D.C., to celebrate his birthday with his two daughters (a son lives on the West Coast; Turow and his wife, Annette, divorced in 2008). He'll also play a few gigs with the Remainders and then begin a lengthy book promotional tour, which starts in earnest with a scheduled "Today" show appearance Tuesday, the book's official release date.
"I have started a new novel," he says. "But it will have to wait until I get through this part of my life." It, too, was inspired by a few words, though never put on a Post-it note: "You don't love me."