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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Identical by Scott Turow

Grand Central Publishing, 384 pages, $28

Scott Turow has written a Greek tragedy. Alluding to both the myth of Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, and Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, Turow introduces us to his twins, Cass and Paul Gianis, in his expansive novel about identity and family.

It is 2008 and Cass Gianis is due to be released from minimum security prison where he has been for twenty-five years, serving a sentence for the death of his girlfriend, Dita Kronos. Paul Gianis is currently running for mayor of Center City, a fictional town in Kindle County. Kindle County will be familiar to Turow fans. He has used it as the home of most of his novels. (For instance, Sandy Stern of Presumed Innocent makes several cameo appearances.)

Complicating Cass’s release and Paul’s campaign are the smear tactics of former friend and neighbor Hal Kronos, now a billionaire real estate mogul. He is also Dita’s brother. He has been mourning her loss for all these years. Now he decides Paul, too, must have had something to do with Dita’s death, and he is hell-bent on getting justice for Dita. Of course, Paul files a lawsuit for defamation, and that sets the stage for some great legal gymnastics in the way that only Scott Turow can present.

Most of the first half of the book is devoted to the legal wrangling, but Turow slowly introduces Evon Miller, Hal’s head of security for his company, and Tim Brodie, a private detective and former homicide cop, who are charged with uncovering whatever Paul and Cass have been hiding all these years.

The second half of the book deals with what Paul and Cass, indeed, and a whole lot of other people, have been hiding.

Turow brings in a lot of characters. Each one, however minor his or her contribution is, receives a portrait. His main characters receive flourishes. For example, Evon Miller was on an Olympic field hockey team and was born DeDe Kurzweil. Nothing really to do with the main story, but nice touches.

There are many nice, descriptive touches throughout the book. In your rush to get to the surprises at the end of the book, don’t fly right by these gems:

  • Hermoine, Hal and Dita’s mother, was “thin and simple like a piece of blank paper.”
  • Sandy Stern appears briefly but he is accorded a stand-out mention: “Round and bald, and with an enigmatically elegant manner, Stern demonstrated there was an advantage to looking middle-aged when you were younger.” (One can speculate that ever after Turow has been trying to reclaim his vision of Sandy Stern after Raul Julia’s portrayal in the movie version of Presumed Innocent. Turow said in an interview with Powell’s Books’ Chris Bolton: “The Stern whom I imagined was stout and a good nine inches shorter than Raul Julia.”)
  • Describing the parole commission after deciding Cass Gianis’s fate: “The panel then rushed out the back door, like liquid through a funnel.”

Turow obviously believes that an author must present evidence to his audience as an attorney presents to a jury. An exhaustive speech about what DNA testing can show will enlighten you or make you fast-forward through it. The bottom line is that identity is a complex subject and identity for twins is not double-good, double-good, but doubly confusing, accompanied by more guilt, more love, more problems.

Identical is a lot of book. Turow’s surprises and convolutions are sometimes clever and sometimes too contrived, but they lean much more towards the positive. (For instance, why does Turow place his story in 2008? Brilliant story maneuvering!) The tragic potential of twins has had an enticing pull on audiences throughout literary history. Syracusan Antipholus says in Comedy of Errors, “I to the world am like a drop of water/That in the ocean seeks another drop….”  The push and pull of twin on twin is inevitable and makes them, in the end, less than identical.

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