Bestsellers are novels that stand the test of time. Their longevity is associated with their appeal and popularity with the masses. Bestsellers captivate a large audience because of their ability to reflect and
capture the times. They transcend gender, race and cultural backgrounds through their capacity to create a message relevant and intriguing to all readers. One of the most intriguing elements of a best seller is its ability to intertwine elements of fant
asy and reality. This blend works in harmony because it allows readers to use their imagination, and at the same time explore elements of a reality unlike their own. Scott Turow's "Pleading Guilty's" success was driven by capitalizing on this novelty.
This 1993 bestseller of 16 weeks (the highest position reached was number two) artfully used this combination to create a novel captivating yet relevant to the lives of its readers and to the period of time.
Bestsellers often fall into two categories, novels that reflect the lifestyles people live, and novels that reflect the lifestyles people want to live. "Pleading Guilty" captured elements of both categories, reflecting the reality versus fantasy aspect o
f the novel. This book's reality is that it deals with real issues. "Pleading Guilty" was reflective of the times and the current issues of that period.
1993 was a period marked by a bomb plot, a cult stand-off, sluggish growth in the economy, major corporate layoffs, a slaying of an abortion doctor, and all in the wake of the riots and beating of Rodney King. It was a period of turbulence and uncertaint
y. According to "Facts on File 1993", statistics showed that May of 1993 was the first time since November 1991 that the jobless rate was below 7 percent. Although times had improved from previous years, the average consumer still feared for their job s
ecurity, the well-being of their children in such a threatening environment, and the decaying values and morals of society. Like the period, "Pleading Guilty" was also unpredictable and filled with uncertainty. The book uses issues such as layoffs, corr
uption and low morals and values as a backdrop to the plot. The novel follows the disappearance of a partner at a law firm as well as $5.6 million of the firm's fund. Mack Malloy, a former policeman and another partner at the firm is assigned to invest
igate the disappearances in order to not raise a scandal. The reader follows Malloy on his quest to find his friend and the money. Throughout his investigation he encounters real life scenarios. He deals with the death of his sister, he deals with a lo
ss sense of identity and stability in life, the fear of losing his job and an attempt to protect a friend. Mack is confronted with real issues which make elements of him more real and intimate to the reader.
Mack Malloy becomes the central character as well as the focus of the book. He is reflective of a then modern day Everyman, and his/her struggle to seek stability and security in a world of dissention. A review by Michael Adams in "Magill's Literary A
nnual 1994" suggests that Mack is an "ordinary" man who is accidentally given an opportunity to undercover the inner workings of a corrupt legal system. Mack's portrayal was reflective of the consumer of 1993 who could relate to the problems he faced in
his life. Mack was divorced, a single parent, a recovering alcoholic, a former policeman and lawyer, he was laid-off several times, was in fear of losing his current job, lost his motivation in life, and felt short changed by society and his family. Ma
ck faced many of the problems of the time and of his readers. He was a hard-working man thrown into a corrupt society trying to make the best of what he had. There were several facets of his character that any individual, male or female could have exper
ienced. The single parent, the fired employee are all scenarios typical to Everyman and the rigors they may face in life. Readers could relate to Mack because they could relate to his situations in life. In the eyes of many people he was symbolic of th
e disenfranchised, downtrodden and cheated citizen of the "system". Many best sellers include characters who are representative of these disenfranchised members of society. People pity these characters because they pity their own sentiments of disenfran
chisement. By forming a heighten level of sensitivity for the character's situations because they can relate to them, they form an attachment and loyalty to Mack. Most importantly, people read these books because they want to anticipate and experience
the character's victory. Mack's victory is in his ability to control his reality. Many people probably fantasize about controlling their reality. What is interesting is that, "These reality experiences immediately influence and are influenced by unco
nscious phantasy (unconscious fantasy)" (Segal, 14). Further, "Reality impinges an unconscious phantasy / it exerts a very strong influence on unconscious phantasy itself" (Segal, 15). Turow uses elements of fantasy throughout the text. Through the use
of fantasy to enhance reality, Mack's story not only becomes one people can relate to, but one they want to experience.
Fantasy in a novel is like a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae, it is the finishing touch. It creates a product that wets the literary appetite of its readers. Fantasy adds an interesting dynamic to a novel because it allows readers to test the limit
s of their imagination. Hanna Segal in her book, The contemporary Kleinians of London, states, "the interplay between phantasy and reality which [the author believes] molds our view of the world / it profoundly affects our personalities, it influences ou
r perceptions, and it plays a large part in determining our actions / according to Freud (1911), the basic function of phantasy is to fill the gap between desire and satisfaction?" This desire to fill the gap between desire and satisfaction is the alluri
ng quality of fantasies. Fantasy is alluring because it allows people to experience this desire in a life unlike their own. It allows people to escape from their own reality and live another. However, Segal responds to this notion by stating, "Phantasy
is not merely an escape from reality, but a constant and unavoidable accompaniment of real experiences, constantly interacting with them" (Segal, 14). In light of this theory, Mack's reality becomes the reader's reality.
The reality of "Pleading Guilty" blends murder, mystery, deception and millions of dollars to create a scenario in which the reader can live out their own tempting fantasies. The seductive lure of mystery and scandal have a spellbinding affect that make
the reader feel as though they are apart of the novel. This affect dominated the best selling charts. "Pleading Guilty" shared its best selling position with other highly publicized books of a similar content (from July 5, 1993). "The Client" was about
the biggest trial yet for a young defense attorney in the case of a suicide, witnessed by two young boys, of a lawyer. "The Scorpio Illusion" was about a beautiful, deadly terrorist and a former Naval intelligence officer who are drawn into a conspiracy
on an uncharted Caribbean island. "Cruel and Unusual" was about a doctor and a police lieutenant who are trying to solve the murder of a thirteen-year-old boy, after the fingerprints of a recently executed murderer turn up at a new crime scene. All thes
e books contained elements of violence, sex, deception and scandal. These issues then and still today, ignite widespread readership. Sex, violence, and scandal continue to be elements that consumers fantasize about. Their appeal is in part due to the f
act that they can be experienced multiple times, but do not affect the true lives of the readers. In addition, "The phantasized objects and the satisfaction derived from them are experienced as the physical" (Segal, 13). Therefore, readers feel as thoug
h they are actually experiencing these fantasies. A fantasy is a personal adventure. Like Segal observed, "the basic function of phantasy is to fill the gap between desire and satisfaction?" As a result, readers are capable of controlling their fantasi
es when their own lives seem out of control. Pleading Guilty allows its readers to live their fantasies through Mack's experiences.
Mack has an opportune experience, he has a chance to control his reality. By accepting the investigation, he is given the chance to reclaim his identity, if successful secure his position at the firm and save a friend and expose the corrupt nature of the
system of law. It is through this investigation that he is able to gain moral ground and rebuild his confidence and character. Mack states as he reflects on his experience, "Now that I am done, I'm thinking that telling this whole thing was for me /
A higher, better me, such as Plato described, a kinder, gentler Mack, capable of greater reflection and deeper understanding. Maybe I wanted to make another one of those failing efforts to figure out myself or my life / Maybe I recount it all because I k
now this is the only new life I will get, that telling is the only place where I can really reinvent myself. And here I am the man who controls not just the words but with them the events they record" (Turow, 386). Many readers could probably relate to
this desire to reinvent one's life and identity. They fantasize about their own victories in life by reading and experiencing Mack's.
Readers might also enjoy indulging in their fantasies and reading books like Turow's as a means to defend themselves from the conditions of the real world. Segal states, "Since phantasy aims at fulfilling instinctual drives irrespective of external real
ity, gratification derived from phantasy can be regarded as a defence against the external reality of deprivation / it is also a defence against internal reality. The individual, producing a phantasy of wish-fulfillment, is not only avoiding frustration
and the recognition of an unpleasant external reality, he is also / defending himself against the reality of his own / internal reality" (Segal, 16). The quote suggests that the reader of 1993 might have found the fantasies formed by reading "Pleading Gu
ilty" as a means to defend themselves against the disappointments they faced in life during those turbulent times.
Turow's ability to combine these two worlds of reality and fantasy is analogous to the special effect techniques that directors create to enhance the plausibility of their movies. The top grossing film in 1993 was Jurassic Park ($337.8). Special effect
s made this movie appear realistic. They added a dimension of uncertainty in trying to decipher fantasy from reality. The technology used to create the dinosaurs and weave them into a setting of real actors had never been seen on a scale of this proport
ion. This uncertainty of what was real and what was not caused a heightened level of excitement in readers and movie goers, and success for Turow and Spielburg.
Scott Turow's success as a lawyer has in many ways influenced his success as a writer. His novels depict a blend of murder and mayhem combined with elements of law and the legalities of the actions of his characters. The success of "Pleading Guilty" was
in Turow's his ability to create a seamless connection between these two worlds. This mix of fiction and reality created a plausible story line for even the most skeptical reader. Turow's ability to translate the world of law to the world of Everyman
allowed readers to get a glimpse of this complex reality without getting lost in it and fantasize about what this reality could be like. Mack's portrayal was essential in that he served as the common thread for readers. People understood his experienc
es because they lived them. By Scott Turow creating a novel that reflects the lifestyle people live and the lifestyle people want to live, he created a best selling combination that set the precedence for his future success.
Apter, T.E. Fantasy literature: an approach to reality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.
Facts on File 1993
Magill's Literary Annual 1994
Schafer, Roy. "The contemporary Kleinians of London". Connecticut: International Universities Press, Inc., 1997.
Segal, Hanna. "Introduction to the Work of Melanie Klein". London: Karnac Books, 1988.