Defense of an Other begins in the French Quarter with a day in the life of a young lawyer named Matt Durant gone horribly awry. After a few beers, Matt works up the courage to visit a gay bar, where he meets a stranger named Joey Buckner. When Matt and Joey duck into an alley behind the bar to take a leak, three drunks target them for a hate crime and beat up Joey, which forces Matt to attack and kill one of the men. Matt is then arrested for murder, thrown in Orleans Parish Prison and calls his boss for help, forcing him out of the closet. The novel then follows the course of his trial and explores its consequences. Defense of an Other is the debut novel from a trans, practicing lawyer born and raised in Louisiana, who graduated from Dartmouth College and then became the Editor-in-Chief of the University of Chicago Law Review. Her seventeen year career has included a one-year clerkship for the appellate court with jurisdiction over Louisiana federal trial courts and 16 years of civil litigation. Heavily influenced by political fiction like Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One, in Defense of an Other southern storytelling meets the gritty legal realism of Law & Order.
I did something with this book that I rarely do. I devoured it in two days, and then I sat with it. I usually have a good idea of where my review will go when I've finished, but this one confounded me. Not because it isn't good - it is. Matt Durant's story is compelling and emotional, the courtroom drama is gripping, and the whole thing is thoroughly thought-provoking. Nevertheless, I ended this one with mixed feelings. For one thing, I kept wondering when Matt and his mother were going to get angry. The more I read, the more I felt like some element was missing, and I finally figured out what it was. We see the fear, the sadness, the worry, the determination, but not once do either of them get mad. The way it's handled, Matt is almost methodical through the whole process, and I just found him to be a little too saintly to be believed, and as a mother, I can't fathom not getting angry over how things happen. Then we come to the conclusion, and I felt a little cheated. This was quite the journey with Matt, and I expected more than to be left hanging. Maybe we're supposed to guess? hope? dream up? where it goes, but after all of that, I wanted closure. This is an emotionally draining journey (minus the anger), and I wanted to know what happened next. I understand that what would have to happen next would've been lengthy, but even an epilogue with some explanation would've been better than that closing line. In the end, Defense of An Other was a brilliant journey ruined by an abrupt and less than satisfying ending.