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    As of this writing (December 2014), this is the first John Grisham book I've ever read. I will read more!. This is an extraordinary novel which held me in its grips the entire way through. If you are a reader of this site, you probably have noticed that I don't read too many modern novels. There are several reasons. One is because I have a library full of classics and I'm in the process of exhausting what Dover offers for sale. Classics are cheap-to-free and have stood the test of time. I'm not saying they're all good and I obviously like some more than others and some authors better than others. But the biggest reason I stick to classics is that there is just so much junk being published these days. There are certain modern authors that I do like, of course, such as Michael Crichton, my absolute favorite. I also like Dan Brown, but I am beginning to be bored by his obsession with symbolism.
    Several years ago, I found a book which was the first in a trilogy that sounded interesting. It was, and I loved the second book, also, as I impatiently awaited the third and last to be published. Unfortunately, that was a crashing disappointment—simply a paraphrase of Brown, and worse yet, full of name dropping, which the first two were not. Any book that includes Donald Trump as a character (other than portraying him as the loathsome jerk that he is), will go in the Goodwill donations box. I'm getting off course here, but some things simply must be said.
    The Testament is just the best of everything. Grisham is an attorney, and many of his books are legal thrillers. Numerous Grisham novels have been made into movies, including The Firm and The Pelican Brief. Though it is a serious book, (I guess), the whole legal business, especially to an outsider, is fraught with humor, albeit, a very sick, sad, satiric humor. Most of this book made me chuckle, with a couple of downright guffaws. Not quite as funny as Crichton's Micro, which pokes fun at American society's lust for lawsuits and wealth, but thoroughly entertaining from page 1 to 535 (that includes the author's brief note at the end!)—not one dull or boring page to be found.
    The story line is simple. An extremely wealthy, elderly corporate mogul, Troy Phelan, summons his family the day of his death. He knows he is going to die that day. He is in a wheelchair, and is supposedly dying of cancer. The novel begins as he rehashes his long life—nearly eighty years—and here is where Grisham begins his magic, which is his ability to create the most fascinating and despicable characters one can imagine. (It makes one wonder about his real-life clients!) Troy speaks from his home, which is the fourteenth floor of his corporate headquarters. He is lonely and angry, but mostly just very, very tired. He has owned every toy money can buy, and slept with every blond that crossed his path, even in his old age. He has had everything, seen everything, done everything one could possibly imagine. Except for one thing—love. He is hateful and hated. He especially hates his ex-wives and his offspring. He will teach them all a lesson today. It is December 9.
    He has been through three marriages in which he has fathered seven children, one which died in an auto accident. What a vile bunch. His first wife Lillian was only eighteen when he, at age twenty-four married her. She barely let him touch her, and he wonders how he got four children from the marriage: Troy Junior, Rex, Libbigail, and Mary Ross. Janie was his next wife, a sex pot whom he married when twenty-two years her senior. Geena came first, then Rocky, whose fatal wreck cost Troy six million to settle out of court. When Troy was sixty-four, he married Tira, age twenty three, pregnant "with a little monster she named Ramble." The entire family is a bunch of losers, school dropouts, drug and alcohol addicts, and all in debt, despite the five million dollars they all received on their twenty-first birthday, except for Ramble who is only fourteen.
    Just for fun, I want to share some quotes from the book that describe Troy's offspring. Troy Junior, the oldest, is now forty-seven. The day after his father's suicide he awakens from a hangover, and thinking he will soon be very wealthy begins to plan his new life, beginning with two Porsches:

TJ slammed the phone down and walked to the rear of his dirty condo, where, thankfully, he couldn't find his wife. They had been through three fights already and it was barely noon. Perhaps she was out shopping, spending a fraction of his new fortune. The shopping didn't bother him now.
Rex, age forty-four, brother to TJ, was, at the time of Troy's death, the only one of his children under criminal investigation. His troubles stemmed from a bank that failed, with various lawsuits and investigations spinning wildly from it. Bank examiners and the FBI had been making rather fierce inquiries for three years.

    Rex's form of income comes from a string of topless bars he had bought from the estate of a man killed in a gunfight. His wife, Amber, is a former stripper, and all assets are in her name. "With the addition of clothing and minus the makeup and kinky shoes, Amber passed herself off as respectable in their Washington circles."
    Libbigail is married to a three-hundred-twenty pound ex-biker called Spike. They had both been through detox numerous times, but are now actually clean and stable. Mary Ross, out of all Lillian's children, is probably the most settled. Still married to her first husband, she was college educated with no criminal record, and had spent time abroad. The biggest issue with her and her doctor husband is that they live way beyond their means and are seriously in debt. Geena is married to an ivy league man—old blood, old money—and she certainly does not fit in especially since it is her second marriage. She and her husband are also heavily in debt.

And then there's Ramble, slouching in a chair on the fifth floor, licking the gold ring in the corner of his lip, fingering the sticky green hair, scowling at his mother, who had the gall to appear today with a hairy little gigolo.

    Quite a colorful bunch, eh?
    Troy trusts no one, even his miserable little butler/gofer Snead who has been with him thirty years. He would like to fire him, but of course, today he will die. Perhaps the one person, the only one he has a relationship with that even comes close to trust or liking is his longtime attorney, Josh Stafford. He has made numerous wills over the years, each one shredded as the next is signed. Today he has invited all of his families together, along with three psychiatrists hired by his family to verify that he is sane, to sign his final testament in their presence. The meeting is videotaped. Though Troy attempts to act "slow," the fact is, he is sharp and completely mentally sound. He can answer all their questions and knows what every company he owns is currently worth. He has before him a thick stack of papers that is his last will and testament. He signs it and assures his family they will be taken care of. Oh, he takes care of them all right!!
    After everyone leaves, happy that Troy has been declared of sound mind and thinking they will soon all be rich, Troy remains alone with Snead, Josh, and another of Josh's attorneys, Tip Durban. Then comes the shocker. There is yet another will—two pages handwritten out by Troy himself that day. He signs it, still being videotaped, hands it to Josh, then jumps up out of his wheelchair, and out the window, fourteen stories up. He splatters on the sidewalk in time for his family to witness it.
    It was all part of his plan to screw the people he hated most.
    The new will leaves his wives nothing. He felt they got enough out of the divorce settlements. To his children, he leaves enough to pay off all current debts as of that day, provided they do not contest the will, which will nullify the bequest. He leaves nothing to Snead. Everything else goes to an illegitimate daughter named Rachel Lane, of whom no one even knew. The estate is worth eleven billion. Rachel is a World Tribes missionary in Brazil. Troy requests an autopsy be done (which proves he didn't have cancer and was actually in good health), and wants no funeral, but is to be cremated and his ashes scattered over his ranch out west. Troy had also requested that the contents of this will not be made public until January 15. He knew his family well, and knew they would be out buying new cars and houses the minute his body hit the ground, thinking they would soon be wealthy, which is exactly what they do. You gotta laugh.
    Enter Nate O'Riley. A long-time associate with Josh's D.C. firm, he is now in a plush rehab sanitarium for drug and alcohol addiction, for the fourth time after having nearly killed himself. Josh doesn't know what to do with him, but he knows Nate is done with his law career. Despite his promises, he will return to his addictions after he's released. In addition, he also faces possible jail time for tax evasion, a heavy fine which he can't pay, and the likelihood of being disbarred. Josh decides to send him to South America to find Rachel in the Pantanal, a remote jungle region at the border of Brazil and Bolivia. Josh makes the arrangements with an attorney at Corumbá, Valdir Ruiz. He packs Nate's bags and fills them with reading materials, phones and other goodies, then sends him off. When he reaches Corumbá, a young, burly, enthusiastic Jevy is hired as his guide. He speak Portuguese, and fair English. And the enchantment begins.
    One of the aspects of this book that make it so appealing is the dichotomy between the two realities that Nate begins to experience. His former life as a D.C. lawyer was stress beyond tolerance, drinking, drugs, sex, high flying and hitting bottom. His immediate perception of Brazil is that of a slow and unhurried peace. He meets Jevy, and insists on taking a plane cruise around the area they will be navigating by boat. It is the day before Christmas, and the pilot, Milton, at first refuses to fly the dilapidated Cessna. But even South Americans can be bought, and with the Phelan estate, money is no object. They fly off—Milton, Nate and Jevy, and the worst imaginable storm hits. This is the rainy season in Brazil. The plane crashes into a cow on a little farm. They all survive except the cow. The farmer is mad, but the cow is paid for, then butchered so nothing is wasted. Meanwhile Nate is dumbstruck by the isolation. He wonders if these people know anything else but their own tiny world. Nate also becomes fond of the three little boys. He gives them each a little money, but again wonders if they will even have an opportunity to spend it. Money seems irrelevant to these people.
    Jevy has some friends at the army base with whom he lifts weights, and is able to get a helicopter to rescue them. When they return, Jevy secures a boat, the Santa Loura, and a "cook" named Welly, who does black beans and rice.
    Nate begins feeling sorry for himself, half missing his own children at Christmas. He buys two bottles of vodka and promises to drink them both the night before they are to leave. The next day, all is ready and when Nate doesn't show up, Jevy gets into his hotel room. Nate is half dead and disgusting. Jevy tries to rouse him and he vomits all over. Then Jevy throws him in the shower, cleans up his mess, and drags him to the boat.
    Nate eventually sobers up—really—and as they go deeper into the jungle, Nate's old life gradually slips away. He slowly begins to see a new perspective. He also has a loyal friend in Jevy. Life is so simple in some ways here. No one worries about all the things that distract one in Washington D. C. or any other city in the U.S. Survival here requires all one's energy. A transformation has begun in Nate—a long-term one this time.
    To make the gap even wider, Grisham alternate between the sordid lives of the Phelan heirs, and the simple lives of the Brazilian jungle dwellers. Before his journey ends, Nate will find himself fighting for his life, and in the process becoming stronger than he ever thought possible. In spite of everything, we begin to love Nate. He becomes our hero and we want him to win the battle of the elements, and the battles raging within himself.
    They leave Welly with the Santa Loura, and take a longboat with an outboard motor that keeps breaking down. They get lost in the maze of rivers, but eventually are guided to Rachel.
    She has spent eleven years with the Indians. She is totally devoted to God and spreading the gospel—converting the Indians to Christianity. She is also a medical doctor, of which Nate was not aware. She has absolutely no interest in her inheritance and refuses to sign the documents. Nate is beginning to understand. He and Jevy prepare to depart, and Rachel urges them to go since there has been an outbreak of malaria. He feels himself getting ill, and by the time the boat leaves, he is in the midst of, not malaria but dengue fever. And even worse, they hear from other boat people that the Santa Loura has sunk in a terrible storm. Welly survived and was taken back home. All Nate's papers, money, passport, phones—everything is gone.
    However, they find a phone and call ahead for a doctor upon their arrival to Corumbá. Nate is put in a hospital unconscious, full of IV's. Again, he survives, and as he is beginning to recover, he sees Rachel at his bedside. She tells him to pray and that God has plans for him. He must trust.
    Soon he is much better, and plans to return to the states. He scours the town looking for Rachel, but never finds her. He even goes into a church and almost wonders if he was hallucinating. Something has changed within himself, however, and it is permanent. He knows he cannot go back to the life of a high profile attorney.
    Without giving away any more of the story, I will say that Nate, who is now basically homeless, stays at a cottage owned by Josh. Right after he moves in, he is drawn to a little church where he makes friends with Phil, the pastor and his wife. From there, his life goes uphill.
    As I said, I'm sure Grisham purposely created this stark contrast between U.S. life and the simple lives of the Brazilians. Even the title says it all—to the Phelan "would-be" heirs, the "Testament" meant a legal document. But to the real heir, it meant the book of God. How fascinating, all the layers and layers of meanings in this absolutely absorbing literary masterpiece.
    Incidentally, Grisham has been to the Pantanal twice. His friend, Carl King, a Baptist missionary, was his guide. Cool.
    I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Despite its length, the pages fly by.


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