Lawyers and Literature
James R. Elkins
Pete Dexter, Paris Trout (New York: Penguin Books, 1989)
Dexter's Paris Trout won the National Book
Paris Trout was made into a film
Barbara Hershey and Ed Harris)
in 1992. [Internet
There is a dark, disturbing, dislocating realm of pathology that haunts
us as lawyers. Paris Trout offers an opportunity to more fully
explore this shadow side of lawyering.
Rosie Sayers is fourteen years old. In her next reincarnation, Rosie
will be a lawyer. I need to say a few things about Rosie Sayers to defend
Rosie is not an overly adventurous girl, possessing no beauty she might
parlay into a better life. "She was afraid of things she could
not see and would not leave the house unless she was forced."
 Rosie is vulnerable but she has a reservoir of inner strength.
In the world Rosie inhabits, she has a commendable cleverness.
After the fox bites her, "[s]he stood up slowly, collecting her
breath, and dusted herself off. She was thorough about it, she didn't
like to be dirty. . . ." [5-6] Rosie's
fear, and who would not be fearful after being bitten by a fox, breaks
through and she cries, but only when she thinks she may have been poisoned.
Rosie Sayers is clever. Cleverness, if one doesn't become overly enamored
with it, is one of those fate-bestowed talents one can put to good use.
With Rosie, we have a case study of cleverness. First, there's the way
she intuitively deals with her fear. She must come to grips with a
fox that has her in its sights, but it's her mother that will do the
real damage when she learns Rosie has been unsuccessful in her errand
to buy bullets at Paris Trout's store. Rosie fears she will be blamed for
what the fox has done, and her fear is well-founded. Rosie "rubbed
both her hands on the ground, picking up orange-colored dust, and covered
her legs and her knees, not to draw attention to the one that was injured."
"She put dust on her elbows and some on her cheeks and neck. Her
mother would be angry, to have her walk into the house dirty when she
had a visitor, but she wouldn't know about the fox." 
When the fox attacks, Rosie loses the rifle shells her mother had sent
her into town to purchase. "She stood still and waited, she didn't
know for what. The sun moved in the sky. She stopped crying; the scared
feeling passed and left her calm."  "Her thoughts turned again to the bullets. . . ."  Rosie returns to the store in an effort to replace the lost bullets.
This calmness in the face of difficulty reminds us of Scout and Jem
Rosie Sayers is not just calm and clever; she's something of a folk
philosopher. I say Rosie is a folk philosopher first because she's calm
in "turbulent seas" and because she does what philosophers
do best: muse and reflect on abstractions. Folk philosophers think about
things the rest of us forget. "Rosie Sayers could not tell time,
and her sense of it was that it belonged to some people and not to others.
All the white people had it, and all the colored people who owned cars."
 Later, when Hanna Trout takes Rosie to the
clinic to look after her fox bite, she sees uniformed boys at the military
school hurrying about as if "the same time that belonged to white
people crawled all over them." "She thought she would rather
not know anything about time than to have it crawling all over her."
One pleasure in following the legal exploits and life of Atticus Finch
is that he doesn't have time crawling all over him. Many lawyers do;
it's not a pretty thing to see. But we let it happen, and we promise
ourselves that our troubled relationship with time will someday right
itself, that some day we'll be in a position to get time right, to make
time serve our true needs, and when we do we'll do only what we want
to do, and do it when we want to do it. Even law students are prone
to time troubles. They often complain that law school steals their time.
For others, law school isn't so much a thief of time, but a "waste
of time." Their time would be better spent, they claim, doing what
real lawyers do, less time studying the abstractions of law. But law
students take solace in the fact that the law school time-warp will
eventually straighten itself out, that time will crawl over them less
when they put law school behind them.
Rosie thinks about jumping in front of a train and getting herself
out of a bad situation once and for all. Rosie doesn't jump in
front of a train, she realizes that there is "another person inside
her . . . who wanted to jump." "She wondered if other people
had another person inside them too." I
wonder about that too. What other persons do I carry around with me,
persons I have yet to meet? I wonder whether lawyers, in order to be
lawyers, doing what lawyers are asked to do, have "another person
inside them too."
Rosie, afraid, subject to "spells," seriously abused and mistreated
by her mother and her mother's lovers, knows things. She knows how to
think carefully about the situation she's in and how to respond to it.
When taken to the doctor to be examined for the fox bite, she's asked
by the doctor whether she's been bitten or is just telling a story.
Rosie knows what to do, what to say: "No sir, I don't tell no stories."
 Rosie's certainty on this matter of truth
and stories stands in stark contrast to some of Cotton Point, Georgia's
more established citizens. Paris Trout and his lawyer, Harry Seagraves,
would have a far more difficult time with the question than did Rosie
Sayers. Neither Harry Seagraves or his client know the difference between
stories and truth; when they do know the difference they ignore them.
Paris Trout is a novel about stories and truth. It's a story
about telling stories, the stories of clients and lawyers, and the story
of a trial where stories and truth collide, collide in a way that makes
it difficult for those telling stories to know whether they've been
bitten by a fox or are spinning a tall tale. In a world with so many
stories, the collision of stories is inevitable; we need trials to figure
out where the imagined fox ends and the real fox has bitten someone.
We learn about the truth of fox stories in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Atticus and Miss Stephanie tell radically different stories about Boo
Radley. Miss Stephanie's stories are pure gossip. Atticus tries to teach
his children that they cannot rely upon all the stories they hear, either
about Boo Radley or about how some in town and in his family talk about
his representation of Tom Robinson. Atticus tells a different kind of
story about Boo Radley by focusing on the Radley's as neighbors. In
the closing pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, there's a still
more dramatic sorting out of stories when Atticus and the sheriff decide
what kind of story they are going to tell about Bob Ewell's death.
In her truthful stance toward stories, Rosie Sayers says, "I don't
tell no stories." Rosie isn't being unimaginative or, like the
children in Miss Caroline's class in To Kill a Mockingbird,
"immune" to the effects of imaginative literature, she is
showing signs of a youthful wisdom. Paris Trout, unlike the young Rosie
Sayer, has created as a substitute for truth his own private reality,
a set of working principles that allows him to tell lies with complete
conviction that they are true. Paris Trout, notwithstanding his reckless
disregard for the truth, becomes a man of power. Rosie Sayers, in contrast,
is quite powerless, but she has a sense of ethics when it comes to truth:
"I don't tell no stories."
Paris Trout's principles, and the story he tells of Rosie Sayer's death
are contested by Ward Townes, the prosecutor, when he brings charges against Trout
for murdering Rosie Sayers. Harry Seagraves will struggle with Paris Trout's principles. Seagraves is a good lawyer, perhaps the best in the county, and he knows
how to represent a client and create a plausible story. Seagraves is
good, not simply because he has plenty of clients but because, as he
puts it: "I take pleasure in the work I do, and I do it better
than most."  That Seagraves is a good lawyer, reading that phrase in the literal and philosophical sense, must mean something more than that he is a good lawyer in the sense
that he can represent a man like Paris Trout and not let his client's
lies stand in the way of his legal representation. Seagraves doesn't
represent Paris Trout because he likes him, respects him, or shares
his world-view. Overly identifying with Paris Trout will not be Harry
Seagraves's problem. The problem is that, though a good lawyer, Harry
Seagraves has lost Rosie Sayer's desire to avoid untrue stories. Lawyers
claim to be able to represent a client and assume they can shield themselves
from a client's poisoned view of the world. We know it didn't work for
Paris Trout could care less that a young girl has been sent to town
for a box of rifle shells and will be in serious trouble with her momma
if she returns home without them. When Rosie explains to Paris Trout
why she has returned for a second box of shells he suggests it must
have been a dog. When Hanna Trout tells Paris that Rosie needs to see
a doctor, Paris says, "Her people got doctors. . . ." 
Paris Trout creates a world in which the only truth is the sound of
his own speaking.
Rosie is taken to the clinic by Hanna Trout where she is treated no
better than the dog that did not bite her. The nurse, prejudiced to
the core, deals with Rosie Sayers as an object. "Rosie could see
from [the nurse's] . . . expression that she did not enjoy to wash a
colored girl's legs." "It took
her longer to scrub her hands than it had to clean the bites."
 The doctor, even more shockingly calloused,
scares Rosie into changing her story. She does what must be done and
tells the doctor it was a dog rather than a fox that bit her so she
can avoid the torture of the long needle the doctor proposes to stick
in her stomach should it happen to be a fox that bit her. 
Rosie's mother, confronted with a child who has failed to carry out
the simple task she was assigned, and got herself poisoned along the way, simply abandons her. In Rosie's mother's demented mind, Rosie is a child of Satan and must be banished from the house [15-16]; she is literally given away as a present to Alvin Crooms, a sometimes
lover, to do with as he pleases. [18-21]
In this dark hour of abandonment Rosie is rescued by a "woman
[who] took the girl into her care." .
Mary McNutt saves Rosie Sayers and provides her shelter in the house
where Rosie will be brutally murdered and Mary McNutt shot and left
Mary McNutt is Henry Ray Boxer's mother. Henry Ray has taken it upon
himself to buy a car from Paris Trout, a car he can't afford, a car
he will pay for with money Paris Trout loans him. Paris Trout is in
the business of loaning money. A hard man, Paris is not stupid, at least
not in matters of business. He tells Henry Ray, "You can't pay
for no car."  But Henry Ray has a new
job at the insane asylum and he's full of pride, and he thinks he needs
a car. Paris Trout takes the kind of precautions a man takes when he
knows things may not turn out well. He questions Henry Ray carefully
about making this deal, and Henry Ray assures him he does have the money.
But the reassurance is brought on by pride, and by the absence of the
cleverness we found in Rosie Sayers.
The first thing Henry Ray does with his new car is pick up Rosie Sayers.
He has in mind having sex with her, raping if necessary. Henry Ray
knows just enough about whose stories hold up in a community to know
that whatever he does to Rosie, it will be unlikely that she'll be able
or willing to tell a story that will get him into trouble. There are
some stories we are not allowed by society to tell, regardless of whether
they are true or not, and Rosie's story about rape would not be heard.
Indeed, in some instances, we do not have the ability to reach into
the walled-off psychological space where the truth is known so it can
be encoded in a story. (We might say something of this sort about Paris
Trout and his relation to his mother and his paranoia.)
Henry Ray, setting off to have sex with Rosie Sayers has a fateful car
wreck. Henry Ray is no better prepared to deal with the accident than
he is to sexually assault Rosie Sayers. He tries to walk away from both.
Henry Ray is most concerned about convincing Rosie not to try to tell
"stories" on him. [29, 30]. As for
the car, in the confused mind of Henry Ray, it's just a matter of returning
the wrecked car to Paris Trout and letting the "insurance"
Paris gave him cover the loan. Henry Ray doesn't know Paris Trout.
It's not going to work out for Henry Ray since his plan requires a
level of honest dealings unknown to Paris Trout. Rosie, powerless and
not a girl to cause trouble, is again caught in the middle of big trouble.
Henry Ray, having none of Rosie's street smarts and ability to understand
others, is hell-bent on causing trouble for himself. He's willful, full
of pride, and not good at getting himself out of tight spots. After
the accident, "Henry Ray was a crazy man." 
Rosie is still with Henry Ray when he attempts to return the car to
Paris Trout. Rosie knows what Henry Ray has no capacity to understand--Paris
Trout is not a man to subject to boisterous, self-indulgent cleverness.
Henry Ray tells Rosie, "I paid the man his insurest, he got to
fix the car." Rosie says, "You gone tell Mr. Trout that?"
 Rosie, with innocent wisdom, knows there
is no future for Henry Ray in trying to collect insurance from Paris
Trout. She tells him, as they enter Trout's store: "They ain't
nothing in here for us. . . . I been in here before." Henry Ray,
willful, full of himself, proud in the defensive way that creates nothing
but trouble, thinks he can take care of the matter. "You just tell
him [Trout] what you see." But Rosie knows. "He don't care
what I seen."  Henry Ray, being Henry
Ray, "paid no attention" to Rosie. 
Later, on the way home, after Henry Ray and Paris Trout have staked
out their respective positions on the car and the debt owed to Trout,
Rosie tells Henry Ray, "I wished we'd took the car home. . ."
 But Henry Ray will hear nothing of the
sort. "Henry Ray Boxer don't drive no tore-up car."  Rosie knows that "Mr. Trout gone want his money" and "will
come to get himself."  Henry Ray seems
totally oblivious to what Rosie sees and knows.
Mary McNutt knows her son and his character.
"The problem with Henry Ray is partly in his blood," she
said finally, "and partly that he believe he got to be more than
The girl [Rosie] did not understand and was not even sure the woman
was speaking to her at all.
"They're some people walk around all the time taller than they
Miss Mary said. "They fool you and me, and sometime they fooled
themself, and then one day a thing can happen and they try and catch
up all at once to what they pretend to be. They go off blind to the
world. . . ." She closed her eyes and grabbed at things that
"Henry Ray don't know how to look at nobody else and understand
them," she said, "because he don't know what he look like
Rosie did not interrupt--it seemed to her that Miss Mary was thinking
something out--but if Henry Ray didn't know what he looked like, she
didn't know who did. He spent more time in front of mirrors than anybody
Miss Mary took it a different direction. "Paris Trout is a weak
man," she said.
"Inside," she said, and tapped herself on the chest. "Inside,
he's as weak as Henry Ray."
"He scart me," the girl said.
Miss Mary nodded and looked over at her in a slow, tired way. "That's
your common sense talkin'" she said. "That man scare anybody
got common sense."
Miss Mary closed her eyes and rested against the trunk of the tree.
She did not seem afraid of Mr. Trout or anything else.
"You stronger than Mr. Trout," the girl said after a while.
"The woman smiled without opening her eyes. "Yes, I am,"
"You ain't scart of him."
"Oh, yes," she said, "I am that too."
Rosie confides in Miss Mary her fear her mother will come to reclaim
her. Miss Mary wants to know if Rosie is still having bad dreams, and
Rosie tells her she doesn't.
The woman bit the corner of her lip. "I tell you what,"
she said, "whenever you get scart, you come to me."
"You keep me away from my momma?"
"I don't know," she said, "but I will be there with
you when she come." 
Two weeks later, Miss Mary and Rosie Sayers are gunned down by Paris
Trout. Miss Mary offers solace and the comfort of a shared belief that
they will go to a place with less sorrow than they have known on earth,
as she waits to die.
The madness of Paris Trout's killing rampage is perfectly juxtaposed
against the life of one of Cotton Point's most successful lawyers, Harry
Seagraves. Harry graduated from the University of Georgia in 1934 and
has the largest law practice in Ether County; "there were hundreds
of clients." 
In the morning Harry Seagraves walked to work. He followed the sidewalks
to the college, speaking to everyone he met, and crossed the campus
on a diagonal to Davis Street. His office was half a block up, on
the second floor of the Dixie Theater Building, and you would never
know, looking at the building or the offices inside it, that his was
one of the richest and most successful law practices in the state.
When Harry Seagraves receives news of the shooting, he "sat still
and tried to think of a way of removing himself from this before it
began." [45-46] He looks for a way to
say no to a case of the kind described by D.T. Jones, the divorce lawyer
in Stephen Greenleaf's The Ditto List (New York: Ballantine Books,
that would burgeon into a great litigious engine that would unearth
someone, somewhere, who could be directed by an appropriate court
to compensate D.T. for each and every minute of his time. . . . Then
he could live the way half the lawyers he knew were living--from the
proceeds of that one big case, a sinecure that had fallen into their
undeserving laps like a starling struck by lightning and had nevertheless
generated, despite their persistent lassitude and seamless incompetence,
a fee of an outrageous and easily sheltered six figures.
Paris Trout will not prove to be a windfall, and Harry Seagraves knows
it. This case will test him.
This is the way Harry Seagraves defines the situation he finds himself
Seagraves, DuBois, Clatterfield & Spudd represented most of the
old and the rich families in Cotton Point, the families that lived
in the houses on Draft Street, families like his own. He was part
of their safety. Paris Trout was not of that group socially--he had
no social affiliations--but he owned property and lumber interests
and the store and was known to have money. His sister was a court
The problem is compounded by the fact that Seagraves has represented
Paris Trout in other matters. Since Seagraves had represented Trout
"in half a dozen civil suits," he "did not see how he
could turn him away now. The obligation was not so much to Trout as
to the families on Draft Street, who counted his protection as a constant."
 Seagraves is honest on a point many lawyers
want to deny; he represents not just a single client but a way of life
when represents Paris Trout. Harry Seagraves knows that his practice
has evolved to represent more than constitutional guarantees for a man
charged with a brutal murder; Seagraves represents the status quo grown
accustomed to its ways and its prejudices. When the law protects the
folk-ways of a place and a time, it uses the law to protect privileges
which are being threatened.
Harry Seagraves knows that this is a case the town will be watching.
"Draft Street would watch what happened to him and fear for itself."
Lawyers sometimes take cases and learn the full magnitude of what they
are being asked to do only as the case progresses. Lawyers take cases
for all kinds of reasons, and sometimes for no reason at all. Whatever
the reason, a lawyer is expected to seek out those facts that, with
the active help of the client, make it possible to tell a plausible
story. Lawyers know how to engage in the fine art of legal story-telling
to insure that the client gets the possible reading of his situation.
Lawyers become so well-versed in rearranging a client's story that they
sometimes push well beyond the principle of story-telling proclaimed
by Rosie Sayers. Lawyers often become such fanciful fictionists that
their work is something akin to that of the novelists. For lawyers,
foxes that bite clients become dogs in exactly the same fashion as the
fox that bites Rosie Sayer becomes a dog in the eyes of Paris Trout
and the doctor who examines her.
Lawyers have a way of trying to find some redeeming feature in even
the worst behavior and the most unsavory of clients. Ideally, they detect
some out-of-the-way bit of character or humanness, a fragment of a lost
self, that will lend credence to the idea that time spent with the client
and work on behalf of the client's case represents something beyond
a fee for a service. Harry Seagraves represents Paris Trout for all
the reasons we might expect of a lawyer of his station and level of
success. But there may be more. "Harry Seagraves had been around
the law long enough to hold a certain affection for those who did not
respect it, but his affection, as a rule, was in proportion to the distance
they kept from his practice."  Paris
Trout is a law unto himself; he's created a private legal order.
Paris Trout would refuse to see it, that it was wrong to shoot a
girl and a woman. There was a contract he'd made with himself a long
time ago that overrode the law, and being the only interested party,
he lived by it. He was principled in the truest way. His right and
wrong were completely private. 
There are early signs and warnings that things will not turn out well:
-- Before ever talking with Paris Trout about the shootings: "Harry
Seagraves sat still and tried to think of a way of removing himself
from this before it began." [45-46]
-- Seagraves finds the "news of what he [Paris Trout] had done
was disquieting in a way. . . ." 
-- He is sexually attracted to Hanna Trout, his client's wife. 
-- When he imagines the trial that will follow "something in
it tugged at him." 
-- Meeting with Paris Trout to discuss the case; "he wished
Paris Trout was somebody else's client. This had a feeling he didn't
like, that he was drawn into something further than he ought to be."
-- Trout insists on knowing how much Harry Seagraves' services are
going to cost him. They talk, in a desultory sort of way, about money.
Finally: "He did not want to be in the room with Trout and what
he had done. . . ." 
-- When Paris Trout finally gets around to giving Harry Seagraves
a full account of what happened in the house [61-65],
Trout tries to justify the violence by telling Seagraves that Mary
McNutt and Rosie Sayers had guns. Harry asked Paris about the guns
and Paris tells him yes they had them. "Seagraves heard the lie
in that." . Later, when asked about
whether the women touched the guns and is told yes, "Seagraves
heard the false sound in that, and Ward Townes would hear it too."
-- Later, when Seagraves and Trout are discussing the matter and
Hanna overhears them, she muses that Paris, "was not a good liar"
and his words in describing the events that took place in the house
sounded "unnatural and practiced." 
-- Visiting Rosie Sayers at the clinic, and seeing her condition
close up: "Seagraves felt a panic loose somewhere inside himself."
. When Seagraves visits Rosie Sayers at
the clinic he has the gun Trout has used in his pocket; he wants to
turn the gun over to the prosecutor personally. When he is told that
Rosie Sayers has just died: "He felt the gun then, a secret in
his pocket. And the secret settled on him with a weight, distinct
from the gun." 
-- Visiting the McNutt house where the shootings took place: "He
imagined Trout, stooping to fit himself into this place where he did
not belong. . . . Paris Trout had come into this room, where there
wasn't anything, and taken a child's life." 
-- He can't get the picture of Rosie Sayers out of his mind. [74,
75, 82, 129, 200, 202, 203, 218]
-- Shown photos of Rosie Sayer by Ward Townes, photos he will introduce
at trial, Seagraves finds himself with "a taste in his mouth
that would not wash out."  [On
the "taste" of bad times, see The Death
of Ivan Ilych]
-- Even after a gun has been found at the Mary McNutt house and Harry
Seagraves has begin to put together a defense for Paris Trout, "there
was something resilient in the nature of what had happened--perhaps
in the nature of the girl herself--that returned again and again as
Seagraves prepared his case and informed him that something was headed
-- During the trial, after the appearance of Thomas and Henry Ray
Boxer as witnesses: "Something was wrong with the case, the same
thing was wrong with him. There was a confusion that defied order,
and Paris Trout was in the middle of it, getting clearer all the time."
-- Talking with Hanna Trout, after the trial and an unfavorable decision
in his appeal of Trout's guilty verdict:
"I am bothered by the case I tried for your husband,"
he said. "Aspects of it have transcended the courtroom and
have not left me alone since." .
Explaining the "aspects" to Hanna Trout:
"The girl herself. . . . Somehow I've obligated myself to
her. The meaning of what has happened will not settle one place
or another. It moves, again and again, so I never know where to
expect her or when she will intrude on my thoughts." 
"There was a moment today," he said, "when I felt
a remorse as strong as if I had shot her myself." 
-- On his dealings with Paris Trout, after the trial: "I dread
to see him, without knowing why." 
We are left to ponder how, with some many intimations along the way,
Seagraves could have let himself be pulled into this situation. He is,
however, able to articulate what has plagued him: "What I overlooked
with you," Seagraves said, "is what you did." .
We see most clearly how he is able to overlook what his client has done
when Seagraves tries to explain himself and his actions to Hanna Trout:
"My husband is an aberration. It is not normal to shoot children.
Whatever effort is made to lend that appearance, it does not change
the perversion itself but only asks that the perversion be shared.
I will not be party to the shooting of children."
He said, "What if I proved that your husband was defending his
life by discharging those shots?"
Her expression turned unfriendly. "You can't prove what didn't
happen," she said.
"It's for a court of law to determine."
She shook her head. "There is no story you can tell in your
court that will change what happened in that house." . . . .
"That is a misperception," he said, "that an act is,
of itself, a crime or a perversion. It becomes such only after it
is judged." He had no idea why he was explaining this to her.
He saw that she had begun to smile again, as if she were judging
him. "The misperception," she said, "is that the law,
and lawyers, decide what already happened." 
<1> Paris Trout
(1989) was Pete Dexter's third book. It won the National Book Award
and was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
The author comments on the writing of Paris Trout: "I hate computers. Paris Trout, I lost that
whole long middle section, one hundred ten pages. It was replaced by
one line of bright yellow smiley faces at the end of it. I had to rewrite
it all. But I didn't even like computers before that. That was the first
book I ever wrote on one, thinking, Oh boy, this is great. I don't
have to retype. I don't have anything against computers, but I
don't like reading about them; I don't like reading about cell phones,
all the technical stuff." Pete Dexter's L.A. Noir, an interview
by Dave Weich, Powells.com.
<2> Commentary: Robert
Batey, Alienation by Contract in Paris Trout, 35 S. Tex. L. Rev.
<3> Lawyers are offered an opportunity and a
justification for leading a compartmentalized life. Lawyers claim to
have their own brand of ethics, a professional morality (gounded in
an "adversarial ethic") that permits them to avoid moral censure
for violation of the tenets of ordinary morality. Hanna Trout tells
Harry Seagraves to drop her husband as a client. Harry tells her he
can't and that it would be unethical. "You can't just get rid of
a client because you don't like what he did. Not after a guilty verdict.
The time for that is before you take the case."
Hanna Trout points out that he has gotten rid of Paris. Seagraves responds
with the rhetoric that so many lawyers use: "That's personal, this
is business." Hanna responds, "We're all only one person.
. . . You can't separate what you do one place from another." Harry
tells her, "I have to . . . I'm a lawyer." 
<4> Paris Trout was adapted for the screen by Pete Dexter, and the film turns out rather well. ["Paris Trout" (1991) -- Rotten Tomatoes]
<5> Pete Dexter and the authors which his readers read. [Literature-Map]
<6> Rosie Sayers, the wise-beyond-her-years 14 year old, in Pete Dexter’s Paris Trout, sees the soldier boys in their uniforms, sees them running around the Georgia Officer Academy and thinks: “she would rather not know anything about time than to have it crawling all over her.” Peter Dexter, Paris Trout 10 (New York: Penguin Books, 1988) (Dexter tells us: “Rosie Sayers could not tell time, and her sense of it was that it belong to some people and not to others. All the white people had it, and all the colored people who owned cars.” Id. at 7).
We see this problem of time, the problem we have with time, as a motif in several Lowell Komie stories. The lawyer in Komie's "The Cornucopia of Julia K.," Julia Latham Kiefer, is a thirty-two year old trial lawyer, involved in a securities litigation case. We know something’s astray early on in the story when Julia tells us she feels like she’s “fallen into some kind of time trough.” The previous week she’s been “ten minutes late for everything” and now it’s twenty minutes, “an irretrievable twenty minutes.” But we’re all time-stressed, time-deprived, time-obsessed—this is a condition of modernity—there’s no deep-lying neurosis to be prescribed based on the fact that we seem constantly to be running late. Or maybe there is. The question is: “what do we do with time and what does time do to us.” Mark Strand, Hopper 25 (Hopewell, New Jersey: The Ecco Press,1994)(meditations on the paintings of Edward Hopper).
I’ve long admired the graceful writing of Robert Grudin, which I first discovered by way his book, The Grace of Great Things: Creativity and Innovation. In The Grace of Great Things, a book about creativity, Grudin's chapters include meditations on: inspiration, discovery, analysis, imagination, beauty, integrity, pain, courage, self-knowledge, freedom. One might wish that Grudin had given us, in The Grace of Great Things, a chapter on the “problem of time.” But then, if you have amassed a good working library, it's always possible find someone who has addressed your "problem." James Ogilvy, came to my attention with his 1977 book, Many Dimensional Man, and then, it was almost twenty years later that Ogilvy took up Grudin’s concerns—“Finding the Freedom To Live a Creative and Innovative Life”—which turns out to be the subtitle to Ogilvy’s 1995 book, Living Without A Goal. [See James Oglivy, Living Without A Goal: Finding the Freedom To Live a Creative and Innovative Life (New York: Currency Doubleday, 1995)]. For lawyers (students of law, their professors, friends of same)(anyone deep into the morass of the modern day problem with time), we might prescribe Oglivy's book.
After I wrote this note, I was puzzled that it was thinking about time that lead me to Grudin, and my disappointment at finding that his book, The Grace of Great Things did not include a chapter on time. It would be several days later before I found a reference to Robert Grudin's
Time and the Art of Living (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982). It seems that Grudin had indeed written the chapter I sought in his work, only it was in the form of still another book. I can, knowing the book exists, picture it perfectly well, and I'm confident I read the book somewhere along the way. I've searched my idiosyncratically shelved library on several occasions now and can't find the Grudin book.
And then, a sunny winter day in early March--03.07.06--I'm reading Walker Percy's The Second Coming, and find, Allison the young woman who shares the spotlight with Will Barrett, the lawyer in the book, observing that there are "two kinds of people." The two kinds, according to Allison are "those who had plans, whose eyes and movements were aimed toward a future, and those who did not. Some youngish people, that is, between twenty and thirty-five, sat on the sidewalk in silence. Though they sat or lay in relaxed positions, time did not seem to pass easily for them. They looked as if they had gone to great lengths to deal with the problem of time and had not succeeeded." [Walker Percy, The Second Coming 30 (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980)]. Later Allison says that like the "youngish people" she's observing: "For her, too, it was a question of time. What would she do with time?" [Id. at 31]
Violence in American Myth, Imagination & Lit.
an essay by Jayne Anne Phillips; Phillips was born &
raised in West Virginia and attended
Lawyers and Literature Home Page