I’ve been thinking a lot about justice while I’ve been writing: A Time to Kill (working title). This is a story, a legal thriller, that deals with themes that are hard to tackle in real life. Even for those whose jobs require dealing with application of law to a particular set of circumstances.
Law, even the equal application of it, often has little to do with accomplishing a just result. Odd for a lawyer with twenty plus years of trying cases to admit, but there it is. It is a dichotomy a lawyer—an active one anyway—shouldn’t delve too deeply into.
But a novelist can.
Where law, the equal (or unequal) application of it, and a just result each diverge is visceral stuff. The kind of gut-wrenching stuff every good vigilante story, legal thriller, or under-dog super-hero story is woven from. Might means right is enough to get most people’s blood boiling and it’s all about the details from there. Details a novelist can turn and twist and revel in. Sometimes when there is little we can do as individual citizens, there is much we can accomplish by writing about injustice and making those who meet out injustice feel the blunt edge of our pens (or keyboard). It’s cathartic—hopefully for the reader as well when the bad-guys fall.
In, Black’s Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition, there are two entries for the word, ‘justice’. The second entry is a noun and refers to the title of judge, generally a title given to federal court and state supreme court judges. The first is a verb. The definition reads, “To do justice, to see justice done; to summon one to do justice.” Law, not moral theory. Consequently, no real definition here. It may be like Justice Potter Steward’s Supreme Court short concurrence in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) when he said he couldn’t define pornography, but, “I know it when I see it.”
I love that line. I think it can be said of love, self-sacrifice, honor, integrity and justice. I may not be able to define any of those things, but I know them when I see them. When a writer gets it right, the reader also experiences each of those things without the author ever having to define them.
Just one of the reasons I’m enthused about writing and I love to be enmeshed in great story-telling when I read a great novel—I get to add my own version of love, honor, duty, integrity and yes, what is a just and an unjust result to every word I write as well as every word I read.
I’ll have more about plot and less about themes next month. Suffice it to say the plot of A Time to Kill involves finding legal solutions to the very real issue of child victimization. When the law doesn’t have solution, those who can enact justice, will.
During this month of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the ability to write about these themes and conflicts. Especially love. Because without love of something or someone, a story just isn’t worth reading.
Happy Thanksgiving to Everyone. May love, family, great food and at least one good story find you this Holiday. For those of you doing NaNo—you Rock!