I just finished two novels. I read John Grisham’s The Litigators because it is set in Chicago and we were visiting the city last week. I read Left Neglected by Lisa Genova because a good friend recommended it and I had enjoyed Genova’s first book Still Alice.
Both Grisham and Genova did not start their careers as writers. Grisham was a lawyer before he became a best-selling author and Genova was a neuroscientist. Both now write novels related to their respective fields of expertise.
The main characters in both their books are Harvard graduates. David Zinc, the protagonist of The Litigators works for a prestigious law firm where he puts in eighty to a hundred hour weeks. Sarah Nickerson is vice president at one of the top consulting firms in the world and puts in eighty to a hundred hour weeks. Neither David or Sarah are managing to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Sarah has three kids she only sees for a few minutes each day when she isn’t traveling abroad. She rarely has time for intimacy with her husband, is estranged from her mother and although her family owns a vacation home on the ski slopes of Vermont, they haven’t had time to visit it in three years. Sarah makes an excellent salary.
David and his wife would like to have kids but he comes home so exhausted he usually falls asleep before they have time for physical intimacy and he doesn’t use the vacation days his firm gives him because he has too much work to do. His office has no windows and he rarely sees daylight, arriving at work early and leaving late. David makes an excellent salary.
Both David and Sarah have their lives abruptly changed. David has a complete breakdown and goes on a drinking binge. Sarah is in a car accident. Neither of them are able to go back to their former jobs and are forced to slow down and completely readjust their lifestyles. Both end up with jobs where they act as advocates – Sarah for people with physical disabilities and David for Burmese immigrants. Both are able to build much closer relationships with family members. Sarah reconciles with her mother and David and his wife have three babies.
I learned new things from reading these two books. From the Litigators I learned how class action law suits work and some startling and disconcerting things about pharmaceutical testing procedures. From Left Neglect I learned about a neurological condition called hemispatial or unilateral neglect – which is the result of a traumatic head injury. A person loses the ability to perceive anything on the left, including their left arm, leg and facial features.
The message of both the books is that being successful in your career isn’t worth it, if the price is the loss of a meaningful, sanely paced life and close family relationships.