Alejandro Stern is very much an outsider, a reserved, formal man, an Argentinean immigrant and a Jew, on whom the nickname “Sandy” sits not a little uncomfortably. Turow further distances the reader from his main character by using a third-person narrator who, although sharing Stern’s point of view, frequently refers to Stern as “Mr. Alejandro Stern.” Such techniques go some way toward explaining Stern’s predicament in The Burden of Proof, his alienation from his family, his incomprehension in the face of his wife’s suicide. Unfortunately, these techniques sometimes also make Stern incomprehensible to the reader, so that the mystery at the heart of the novel— why did Clara kill herself?—is never entirely resolved. Clara Stern committed suicide because of the consequences of her anger at her husband. Because the novel’s focus on him is not always sharp, the causes of his wife’s destructive behavior are themselves blurred.
In contrast, the portrait of Stern’s antagonist, Dixon Hartnell, is vividly drawn. Here, as in John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost (1667), the hero’s opposite number is more energetic and attractive than those on the side of the angels. Indeed, Hartnell is portrayed in terms that make him out to be the devil in disguise. Toward the end of the novel, when his sins have been revealed, Hartnell tells his brother-in-law, “I’ve always wanted to do what other people wouldn’t,” to which Stern...
(The entire section is 489 words.)