Anonymous Asshole

The rapid growth of the Internet usage in the last decade has spread to the world of fiction, from love stories built around e-mails and instant messages to thrillers that rely on the hero riffing through Google.

“Anonymous Lawyer” introduces blogging as the newest plot device du jour. The novel began as a Web site in which Jeremy Blachman, a Harvard law student, posed as a hiring partner at a large Los Angeles law firm. The character he created embodies all of the worst traits about lawyers. He’s cynical, hateful, sexist, racist, humorless and focused only on making as much money as possible.

Blachman has said in interviews that he started the site as a joke, but the lawyers took his anonymous postings seriously. They told horror stories of their own, only theirs were true.

The site drew so many readers that a book contract followed, and “Anonymous Lawyer” the novel is the result.

The novel reintroduces the character, and since he doesn’t have a name, let’s call him A.L. for short, okay? He’s still an amoral sociopath, given to referring to everyone, from partners and associates to secretaries and summer interns, by nicknames such as The Jerk, The Suck-Up and The One Who Missed Her Kid’s Funeral. He’s estranged from his wife and daughter and beats his eight-year-old son at Wiffle Ball.

Staying with this jerk for the course of a novel can be trying, but Blachman finds ways to humanize A.L. without dulling his edge. When he begins posting his observations about the firm online, he discovers a need to unburden himself and connect with other people. He also stays in touch with his niece, who’s about to enter Yale Law School. By simply hanging around him with condemning him, he runs the risk of becoming a lovable character, someone to root for in his quest to become chairman of the firm.

But only just. To him, acting humanely means putting his drunken wife in the car at the chairman’s barbecue, but “I left the window open a crack so she wouldn’t get overheated.”

After 145 pages of A.L.’s acid-edged descriptions of the legal life, the plot gets rolling when the chairman drops dead of a heart attack. A.L. is one of two partners in line for the promotion. As he schemes to worm his way into the corner office, his blog attracts more readers, and the possibility of being found out grows. A.L. finds himself riding a tiger that could end up destroying him.

“Anonymous Lawyer” works on two levels. It’s a satire of the legal profession, but as the story unspools to its inevitable end, it also becomes a fuller-bodied character study of A.L. To say more would give the game away, so let’s say that along with his legal classes, Blachman has probably taken a couple of courses in post-modern fiction, and that once you reach the end, you wonder why you didn’t see it coming all along. Blachman is not just a blogger, he’s a writer as well, and a promising one.