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Dignity by David Bloch (1st Books Library, 451 pages, $20.95) David Bloch has written the perfect novel for litigators who love their jobs so much they’re reluctant to take vacations. Dignity is intent on providing not only entertainment but also an accurate impression of the workaday world of lawyers, judges, and law clerks. Take it with you to the beach and immerse yourself in its pages. It is calculated to drive from your head the sound of the waves beating against the shore. Dignity sets itself apart from its many predecessors in the long line of courtroom dramas by its steady accumulation of details. Perhaps no other novel has ever provided a fuller picture of how a courthouse operates. It’s certainly the only novel I know of that offers, for example, an explanation of Shepardizing. Of course, one reader’s telling details might prove to be another reader’s needless minutia. Those who prefer their pleasure reading to display a certain narrative economy may find Dignity somewhat frustrating at times. For example, it takes a confident author indeed to introduce into his plot a discussion of a Bruton hearing and still sustain the reader’s suspense. But it has been said a million times that writers should write about what they know. Bloch, a partner in the D.C. office of Reed Smith, apparently knows the law and what lawyers tend to talk about. Dignity tells the story of of an assisted suicide played out in a New Jersey suburb and its unexpected consequences. When 18-year-old Ken Goodman is told by doctors that he has an inoperable brain tumor, he accepts his fate stoically. At first, he is resigned to living out the remainder of his days as normally as possible. But as he gradually begins to lose control of his motor functions and to suffer from increasingly severe headaches, he realizes that the slow, debilitating march to death he faces is more than he can bear. He confides his fears to his single mom, Claire Goodman, and they, in turn, consult his pediatrician, who is as much a family friend as their longtime doctor. The doctor introduces them to the Rev. Jerome Walsh, a minister with the organization Dignity, which, as the name implies, was founded to help the terminally ill end their lives in a dignified manner. Over the course of several weeks, Walsh counsels Ken and explains to him how best to take his life. With each visit to the dying teen, Walsh solicits a letter from him, in his own hand, saying that the impending suicide is his own idea. Walsh will be in attendance at the suicide to offer advice and support, and he informs Ken and his mother of the proper dosage of Nembutal needed to end Ken’s life. He will not, however, play any part in helping them obtain lethal doses of the drug. When the day comes for Ken to commit suicide, all seemingly goes as planned. After taking the requisite number of pills administered in a bowl of applesauce, Ken peacefully slips into sleep and then into death. Barely minutes after Ken’s death, two police officers arrive at the Goodmans’ door, mistakenly dispatched to the address to investigate a domestic dispute that had actually taken place up the street. One of the officers spots Ken’s corpse, and Ken’s quiet suicide quickly becomes a cause célèbre. The Rev. Walsh eventually finds himself facing trial in state court for his participation. The bulk of Dignity is an account of the trial and the various pretrial maneuverings. Most of the action is seen through the eyes of judicial clerk Chris Hamilton, who is at the service of presiding Judge Arthur Medinger. At trial, grizzled veteran D.A. Bob Beckwith locks horns with the celebrated defense attorney Mickey Belson. Bloch, who was clerking for a state judge in New Jersey when he first got the idea for Dignity, has created a cast of distinct and believable characters. To Bloch’s credit, his lawyers are true to the Code of Professional Conduct. They act like lawyers, not gumshoes. You’ll find no shootouts in deserted warehouses in the pages of Dignity. There’s no need for Bloch to inject such artificial excitement into his novel. It holds enough intellectual stimulation to sustain a savvy reader. Dignity is a novel of ideas. It would be hard to find more-reasoned arguments for and against assisted suicide than those made in this novel. The book is also truthful to a fault. Bloch always favors accuracy over flashy literary conventions. As evidence, I point to the resolution of the trial, which I won’t disclose here. That is one authorial choice among many in Dignity that took guts and integrity to make. Joel Chineson is chief copy editor at Legal Times.

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