A man is sexually harrassed by a woman. The high-powered attorney hired to defend him is a Latina--two legally protected classes wedged into one pair of patent-leather pumps. And a shallow, self-serving CEO defends his choice of a woman for a top post, telling the company lawyer, "Hell, we've got to break the glass ceiling sometime."
All the while I'm asking myself, "What kind of book is this, and why haven't I read more like it?"
Disclosure, by bestselling author Michael Crichton, is a book of surprises.
Who among us doesn't love irony? Or poetic justice, for that matter.
One of the many things I love about Crichton is his modern sensibility. He plunks plucky women into male-dominated industries. Then he gives wings to his plot-heavy fiction with a writing style so transparent you'll swear the book wrote itself--both of which make Disclosure a gem-vita read.
I once told my junior high students that good fiction puts your protagonist in a tall tree, like a defenseless kitty. Then the firemen are called in. But instead of rescuing the feline, the firefighters throw stones at her. And this maltreatment of the kitty, the central character, should continue until the end, when she is carried down the extension ladder to safety in the nick of time.
Within the first quarter of Disclosure, Tom Sanders, a hard-working, talented executive in a high-tech firm--too trusting and bland for his own good--faces public humiliation, loss of his job, banishment from his career, and the dissolution of his marriage because of events that transpire within a single hour of a single day.
You have to love Sanders' wife's reaction, too. Instead of being understanding and loving him unconditionally, when he explains the details of the incident between him and his 35-year-old, drop-dead gorgeous boss, his wife says, "You goddamn son of a bitch...I can't believe what an ass***e your are... You're sorry. F**k you, you're sorry."
Quite a change of pace from the Stepford Wives some male writer friends are wont to create in their novels. You know the kind of wives I mean. Sweet as candy. Ethereally beautiful like Grace Kelly. As stacked as Pamela Anderson. In short, total figments of the testerone-laden imagination and annoying as hell to female readers.
Crichton doesn't succumb to predictable male fantasies in drawing up his characters. That's precisely why I like his books so much, this one included.
Sanders behaves foolishly in the beginning of the novel. Hours before he is harassed himself, Tom dismisses an instance of sexual harassment from a woman to a younger man in his division, saying, "Well, he must have done something to deserve it." (That 's the portion I read aloud in my Disclosure audioclip.)
The only way out of his predictament is to use his head, to rely on the faculties he has used thus far in his career. To not make the same kinds of senseless mistakes he made in the first quarto of the book.
I confess. It's fun watching Sanders squirm. The reader wants him to dig his way out but not too quickly. Then it seems there's no way out for him, that he ruined the rest of his life irrevocably because of a few bad choices made in an hour's time.
The other thing to expect in any Crichton book is an immersion into state-of-the-art technology, in this case, the computer industry on the West Coast. Even if your computer knowhow is as lacking as mine--you don't know a controller chip from a potato chip-- in no way will this diminish your enjoyment of the book.
This first time I read Disclosure I couldn't put it down. I remember diving into the book until two in the morning, and my husband stumbling out of bed, incredulous at seeing me up four hours before I had to rise for work, asking, "What in God's name are you doing?"
Disclosure is smart and sexy. Initially it enables the reader to feel smarter than Sanders and, by the book's end, wiser all around. Because Crichton describes some of the virtual technology well enough for the reader to visualize, you emerge from your reading with an artificial understanding of modern technology with a three-hour half-life.
This book is the literary embodiment of the maxim, "What doesn't kill you will make you stronger."
I've read nearly every book Crichton has written. I have also written a novel myself. As I reread Disclosure over the past week, in preparation for writing this review, I found myself thinking, "I like reading novels lots more than I like writing them."
I won't ruin it for you and tell you how it ends. Don't bother with the movie version. In no way does it do justice to the book.
You can read Disclosure in four hours. And those of you who pick it up will be sorely tempted to do so.