"Inside Out" by Barry Eisler is written, as are Grisham's novels, like a movie, complete with gratuitous sex interest and predictable plot twists. The illumination it shines on the nature of torture and the politics of torture could be removed. The political analysis of the last 50 pages could be deleted. And 90 percent of the book could be turned into a mindless Hollywood thriller.
For an anti-torture novel, the protagonists seem at first to be improbable choices. There are no victims here and no opponents of torture, no lawyers and no journalists -- just the rather jarring practice of naming the characters with the real names of progressive bloggers. There is, however, on sharp display, the process through which participants in the system and on its edges are corrupted -- those who might become whistleblowers or might, on the contrary, sell their souls.
There's something else that gives the author insight into just that sort of character, something explicitly spelled out in the analysis that creeps into the closing chapters: fatalistic, nihilistic, spectatorship. The lesson of this book is not that we are farther gone down the road to fascism than we thought and need to pull ourselves together quickly with greater sacrifices. The lesson is that we're too far gone. It is too late. All is hopeless. And if the narrative didn't make this as clear as a brick to the forehead, the author spells it out in a 48-word end note.
The premise of the novel is that the American public would object to the practices of torture long documented with the written word if videos were released. But this book seems to assume that Americans will no more react to a book about the videos than they have to written descriptions of the torture. That may very well be true. But can Eisler really have written this book without even a glimmer of a spark somewhere deep down inside him telling him it just might make a little bit of difference?