TOKYO Jan 3 Lawyer Brek Cutler has a husband
she adores, a baby daughter and a successful, high-powered
career, but suddenly she finds herself standing on a train
platform, covered in blood.
It turns out she is in heaven, where she is quickly
recruited to defend people's souls in the Last Judgment - a
responsibility that forces her to face her past, her own need
for judgment, and to ask herself how capable she is of
James Kimmel Jr., himself a lawyer, was inspired to write
his debut novel, "The Trial of Fallen Angels," by the increasing
disparity he felt between his job and his religious beliefs.
Kimmel spoke with Reuters about his inspiration for the
book, his own conflicts and justice and forgiveness.
Q: What got this story going?
A: "I've been practising law for now over 20 years, and
fairly early on in that career I began to experience a conflict
between my duty to seek justice on behalf of my clients as a
lawyer and my spiritual beliefs, the necessity and even the
practical value of forgiveness.
"So I found myself on a path of heading into the upper
reaches of the legal profession. But at the same time, as a
litigator, I was feeling a deepening conflict between what I was
doing and my spiritual beliefs. That eventually led to a crisis
that derailed that aspect of my career entirely, where I just
felt the need to pull out of there. To resolve that conflict I
began undertaking a study of the world's religions to see what
they all had to say about justice versus forgiveness, the idea
of seeking revenge versus forgiving. I also started writing.
"What I really wanted to do with this novel was explore the
conflict between justice and forgiveness that I was
experiencing, but to put that in the most extreme set of
circumstances I could imagine - which ended up being at the
trial of the final judgment, where all eternity's at stake.
"I asked myself the question: what would it be like to be a
lawyer in that courtroom and what would it be like to be a soul
facing that judge, and does the possibility of forgiveness exist
even in that type of environment?"
A: What led you to choose the structure and the people that
Q: "I can't remember with clarity exactly when casting this
in the voice of a woman came to me, but my wife is a lawyer as
well, though not a litigator. I really was a bit frightened by
the idea of writing an entire novel, since I was trying to
resolve my own conflict with fiction, and this character would
be my avatar, as it were. I eventually came to the idea that if
I spoke in the first person female I would create a bit of
psychological distance between myself and the character that
would allow me to explore it."
Q: You had the idea, you had the character - how did you
proceed from there? You said it took a long time to write.
A: "Yes, it took more than a decade for me to write this
book. And no, I didn't have it all outlined from the start. This
is a book that, as many writers experience, somewhat took on a
life of its own and began writing itself.
"It was very difficult to place yourself in an environment
that you've never been in and imagine what that environment
could be like, something that's in the afterlife and where these
trials are being held, and what a soul would be experiencing in
"I think what really became important for me was her real
need - and I thought it was a very human need - to continue to
cling to and drag her life's past into that place, to not be
willing to let it go. In the end, I think that's what justice
seeking versus forgiveness is all about, because when we're
wronged by someone, and that wrong occurs perhaps today - and a
month later, six months later, a year later, ten years later,
sometimes at the end of a lifetime, we're still insisting on
thinking about that, dwelling upon it, regretting it, feeling
angry over it, and wanting justice for it -- some sort of final
capitulation and inflicting of final suffering upon the person
who harmed us, perhaps years ago.
"When do we stop? When can we stop, and what can help us
stop? That's what was really necessary for me in this book, to
create that set of ultra-rarefied, crucible-like circumstances,
where I could test justice versus forgiveness."
Q: Do you think, with the kind of big issues you took up in
this book, that there's the danger of becoming preachy?
A: "Yes, it was something I was aware of and something I
worked very hard to modulate. I think depending on the reader
and their sensibilities, some will say that I didn't succeed and
some will say that I did."
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Patricia Reaney)