William Landay is the author ofThe Strangler, a Los Angeles Times Favorite Crime Book of the Year, andMission Flats, winner of the Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for Best First Crime Novel and a Barry Award nominee. In his latest book, Defending Jacob, Landay asks, "How far would you go for your child?"
Every parent says it, sometime, in one oath or another: “I would do anything for my child. I’d lay down my life … give up everything I have … never abandon him.” We say it with serene certainty, we parents. We speak in absolutes: anything, everything, never. And we mean it sincerely. At least we think we do. Because most of us will never be tested. Most of us, fortunately, will never have to find out just how far we would go to defend our kids, or how far we should go.
What about you, reader? How far would you go? Can you even imagine a situation where a parent should abandon her child?
In Defending Jacob, the Barber family is faced with a crisis when their 14-year-old son Jacob is accused of murdering a schoolmate. As the evidence mounts, Jacob’s parents react in different ways. Laurie, Jacob’s mom, becomes increasingly wary of the boy. Andy, Jacob’s dad — though he is a veteran prosecutor and master trial lawyer, a disciplined guy whose entire career ought to have trained him to see the evidence clearly — simply can’t imagine his son committing the ultimate crime. I can’t say much more without spoiling the story. Suffice it to say, these two parents — equally intelligent, equally well-meaning, equally loving — seem to have different breaking points.
Is it just an idle question, something for book groups to chat about? I can hear you, reader, thinking: My child would never do that. My child is not capable of doing anything seriously wrong, let alone murder. It is probably true. Most children — most people — are not criminals. Certainly, very few parents will find themselves in the sort of extreme situation the Barbers are plunged into.
But the Barbers’ dilemma is really every parent’s problem. The only difference is the scale of Jacob’s wrongdoing. Because the challenge for every parent is to know your child, to see him for what he is and accept him, because there are limits to what any parent any can do to shape a child’s behavior. Good families produce bad kids, or at least imperfect kids. Kids who surprise their parents, in ways good and bad. Andy and Laurie Barber are not so different from you or me. When you read Defending Jacob, you may hear a little voice in your head asking, What would I do?