The Criminalist: Taking Scott Turow’s Deposition

INNOCENT, the long-awaited sequel to Scott Turow’s 1987 novel PRESUMED INNOCENT, won’t actually be in stores until Tuesday, but boy, the media blitz has begun in earnest. There’s the short Wall Street Journal profile by Alexandra Alter and Scott Martelle’s lengthier piece in the LA Times. USA Today more or less liked the book and Entertainment Weekly felt about the same. The Chicago Sun-Times interviewed Turow and reviewed the book, while the Seattle Times found INNOCENT to be “flawed but great” and Jonathan Yardley appreciated its “intelligent but thoughtful” approach. And as for Michiko Kakutani, well, that review should have a force field around it for those who haven’t yet read the book and still dare to click.

To be fair, my own Q&A – which is the basis for my newest Criminalist column at the B&N Review, and was conducted earlier this month – also comes with a hefty spoiler warning. I don’t like to censor myself when talking with an author and Turow had a lot of thoughtful things to say about the dynamics of the Sabich clan, an underlying theme of masochism, adhering to and tweaking scientific advancement in the courtroom, and the variety of perspectives in the book. Which is why I won’t excerpt the piece here, but will run an additional question that was cut for space:

A large chunk of Innocent’s time line, from September through November 2008, revolves around Rusty’s election to the State Supreme Court. But the politics you concentrate on are extremely local, and the references to current events are incidental and inconsistent: Eliot Spitzer is name-checked, but Rod Blagojevich is not, and of course, some other guy from Chicago was running for office as well. And yet, rereading Presumed Innocent, I liked that even though it was very contemporary, you didn’t bog the book down with larger political/global questions. Was it a conscious effort on your part to keep things as constrained as possible, knowing/not knowing, potential realization that later readers will not get bogged down in whatever’s happening outside of Kindle County?

I have to say there’s something intuitive about that judgment. The smart-ass response is that all politics is local. But the book doesn’t completely ignore what’s going on in the greater world. Tommy makes a remark that they really want to get these guys from Al-Qaeda and throw them in the Kindle County jail. There is also a moment where Tommy and [colleague Jim] Brand are out during the day on Halloween and see some kids getting back from school, one wearing a mask of Barack Obama. I did that deliberately to suggest that there were big things afoot in the world at large.

I also think the reality for all of us is that, as much time as we spend involved intellectually and emotionally with the global stage, it’s not really where we live. What’s meaningful to Rusty is his own election, his own family, and Barack or no Barack, the message is hardly less significant. In other words there’s an element of emotional authenticity about saying these really are important issue. To me, talking about Al Qaeda or Barack Obama matter a great deal. But it is not where most people live.

When the news first broke about INNOCENT, also revealed you were leaving FSG for Grand Central. Way back when, talking about PI, sold to FSG for $200K, wasn’t top bid, but you wanted one of the last indies. What sort of prompted you to choose paperback house vs. longtime hc house. And how did that affect editing process?

I have a wonderful new editor in Deb Futter, but Jonathan Galassi has been my friend now for the greater part of my adult life, and he is still my dear friend. I have complete and unlimited confidence in Jon as an editor. There was absolutely no dissatisfaction of any kind with the editorial process of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I still think Jon is the greatest editor alive. No disrespect to Deb, who did an absolutely superb job with this novel. Unfortunately, we were in a rapidly changing literary marketplace. To have a hardcover and a paperback publisher wasn’t reasonable economically, and with the advent of the Kindle it was becoming completely unrealistic, at least with the pricing model they were following last year when I made this deal, what with the pricing of Kindle books essentially cannibalizing paperback market.

Both GC and FSG made the point to me for some years now that I was going to have to choose one publisher, because it wasn’t working economically to have two. I chose Grand Central because it really came down to feeling like I had to do something new. Part of it was that this book obviously gives me an opportunity to renew and reposition, since Grand Central owns my whole backlist in paperback. They are in a unique position to do that. Not at all an easy decision. But I think I was at a time of life where I felt I would be most comfortable making a change. Although Jonathan really wanted to publish this book, he’s been very generous, he understood. He’s a very very close friend. Understood why I would make this decision. The last thing he said to me on the phone was “I absolve you.”

Was there any sense when you were working on edits with Deb that “this isn’t what Jonathan would do” or invigorating to have the fresh perspective?

Well they do have different approaches.

Yes, that was more what I was getting at.

Obviously, having published 8 books with Jon, there was an extent to which I had incorporated his viewpoint. It probably isn’t even fair to say that Jonathan wasn’t the editor of this book because there’s a way in which I’ve taken his lessons to heart and carried them with me. Deb had her own way of doing things. But we still got into the kind of robust conversations I would hope to have with an editor. After I turned in the book, I had a kind of epiphany over a weekend and rewrote the first 65 pages over a couple of days and sprung it on her. Real heart to heart over course of week over which [the opening] was better. I found Deb to be an incredibly sympathetic editor who was really tuned in to this book. And understood it wasn’t just a commercial enterprise. True with both [Futter] and [Galassi] that it’s never stopped being my book, with either one of them. I remain the God of my universe. And in both cases they are just trying to help me write the best version of the book I want to write.

And as for Turow’s fictional world of Kindle County, much discussed both in my piece and elsewhere, I had to point out that INNOCENT was the first book Turow had published since the word “Kindle” meant something entirely different (and, now that he’s the president of the Authors Guild, such a context will be even more entrenched.) He laughed when I asked about the name concordance. “I like to imagine that Jeff Bezos is this great unannounced fan of my fiction, but I somehow doubt that.”