Friday, July 3, 2015


Is our behavior a function of

  1. the limitations imposed by our history and 
  2. the boundaries we have imposed on ourselves, 
  3. such that these historical and self-imposed limits 
  4. circumscribe and shrink our experiences 
  5. consequently restricting our ability to think and act rationally?  

Limitations is one of Scott Turow's court/lawyer novels. I've read many if not all of them. This is not one of the better ones, but still an engaging read.

No court novel can be better than Presumed Innocent, Turow's first novel.  If you have not read that, and like to read courtroom mysteries, go get it. The movie is just okay (and changes a significant part of the ending). The book is not just okay. It is a masterpiece that I cannot characterize any other way.

Limitations is not nearly as good.  It seems to me to have potential, but whereas his other books are well developed and nuanced, this short novel reads like he had a good idea,  but maybe got a better idea along the way and wanted to get to project number 2--or had to have a hip operation and something sapped his energy for project number 1.  Only 197 pages, the doer of an important sub-plot is predictable, and the message is not that profound.

Yes, we are limited by our history and some of us place boundaries on our lives to the extent that we just don't get to experience what we might otherwise so that we stay within a tiny comfort zone. Such limitations can be suffocating and can reduce our ability to think and do rationally. And some others--and there is a character like this in the story--have had no such self-inflicted or other encumbrances so that there seem to be no limits on what they can do. And yet another character who could have been so encumbered because of history appears not necessarily to be so hampered.

If you are a fan of Turow, then you will probably enjoy Limitations some, as I did. Though I would recommend most others before this one.

There is a central issue that is intriguing.  If you are thinking of reading the book, I would stop reading the blog here--though most of what is described below you find out early on.

The case is about four 25 something year old men who are appealing a conviction.  At a party when they were seniors in high school, they were among many revelers who drank a good deal. One, a 15 year old high school sophomore, got smashed by her own admission and passed out in a bedroom.  The boys decided to have their way with her and videotape the acts. The girl was barely conscious during the episode, such that the next day--while sore--she did not recall what all had transpired.  So she did not go to any authorities.  Years later, (the statute of limitations had passed) one of the boys--now young man--brags about his prowess and shows the videotape to someone who coincidentally knew the young woman who had been violated.  This person tells the woman about the tape.  When the woman, now at 19, sees the recording she decides to prosecute. The boys are convicted. Their appeal is based on a number of factors-- one is that the statute of limitations has run out.  One of the three appellate judges who listens to the case is nagged by the fact that he was witness and participant to a not altogether dissimilar incident 40 years prior. The judge wonders if there should be a statute of limitations on t/his reprehensible incident.

So the judge is limited as an arbiter because of his experiences, some clerks are limited by theirs, and there is a side story which reveals the limitations of several other characters in the plot.

To what extent are our abilities to function rationally in this one life we have, limited?

Well, they are.  You probably don't need to read this book to realize that.   Still, limits--even self imposed ones--can be changed with some introspection and subsequent adjustments to our comfort zones.  And I think this may be the positive result of reading a book that highlights others' limitations.

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