Art and Entertainment

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Author John Grisham

Grisham’s Latest Doesn’t Thrill Pittsburgh School

February 03, 2009 08:59 AM
by Cara McDonough
The bestselling author’s book features a fictitious sexual assault committed by Duquesne University students. Even if it’s fiction, art can hurt a reputation.

Bad Publicity

John Grisham said he used the school in his latest book, “The Associate,” simply because he’d seen the campus once. The plot revolves around a sexual assault committed by drunk fraternity boys in an off-campus apartment. 

University officials want to ensure that the public doesn’t get the wrong idea.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that spokesperson Rose Ravasio said in a statement that “we think it's unfortunate that he chose to use our name and associate it with a fictional incident of this nature, especially when Duquesne students are generally known for their leadership and integrity."

Grisham has responded to the school’s concerns, saying in an email, “It was not my intent or desire to embarrass Duquesne University or make anyone there feel uncomfortable.” Grisham did not approach the school to inquire about using its name but as a writer, he is free to use it in his fiction and is legally protected.

The university may be particularly sensitive because in 1984, four basketball players were charged with raping an 18-year-old student. Three of them were acquitted and prosecutors dropped charges against the fourth.

This is not the first time a fictional account has raised ire among critics due to its author’s depiction of a place.

In his 2004 novel “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” Tom Wolfe painted a rather unflattering picture of southern college life, with students drinking constantly and to excess as well as engaging in casual sex. Critics and students alike reacted negatively to the characterization of college life. “What's galling about this novel is its persistent lack of nuance, its reduction of the whole spectrum of people on a college campus to these garish primary colors,” wrote Ron Charles in a review of the book in The Christian Science Monitor.

But a book’s influence may also promote a location. Despite the fact that the plot revolves around a real-life murder, John Berendt's bestselling book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” brought good publicity in the form of a tourism boom to Savannah, Ga., where it is set. The city even offers a tour based on the book.

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Related Topic: Fiction sold as fact

Love and Consequences” was marketed last year as the memoir of a gang survivor named Margaret B. Jones. But soon Margaret Seltzer (the author’s real name) was forced to admit that she’d embellished the story, which was based on real accounts. She defended her decision to lie, saying the story needed to be told.

Seltzer’s is not the only supposedly true story that turned out to contain a fair amount of fiction in recent years. Just a week before Seltzer’s memoir was exposed as fake, author Misha Defonseca, whose real name is Monique De Wael, issued a statement admitting that the Holocaust memoir she published 11 years ago is fiction. And in 2003, James Frey was widely criticized for having duped readers in his fictionalized memoir, “A Million Little Pieces.”

Reference: John Grisham


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