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Jay Wexler on Law, Humor, and Midlife Crises

david wilson for the boston globe

Ed Tuttle, the title character in law professor Jay Wexler's debut novel, "Tuttle in the Balance," is a Supreme Court justice working his way through a midlife crisis.

This reporter wasn't alone in wondering about Wexler's choice of name; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for whom the author clerked in the 1990s, wondered whether it was a nod to "Elbert Tuttle, wise and courageous old Fifth Circuit (later, Eleventh Circuit) judge, a man unlikely to have had a midlife crisis," Wexler recounted, quoting his former boss.

But the professor said that's not the case. "I don't have any idea why," he said. "I just think it's a fun name, that's all. It is a fun name!"


Wexler expressed skepticism about the unruffled real-life Judge Tuttle: "Everybody should have a midlife crisis! I mean, why wouldn't you have a midlife crisis? My first midlife crisis was when I was like nine-and-a-half. So it's hard to believe that this guy didn't have a midlife crisis, but if that's true I don't think that's anything to brag about."

Although Tuttle is sad, the novel itself is not. "The book is intended to be humorous," said Wexler, who teaches at Boston University. "I won't presume to say that it is humorous." Still, he added, "I also take the position that it's not only funny. I hope it's a little poignant and makes people realize that it doesn't matter how big a deal you are, you can still have doubts about what you're doing in life."

Mixing law and humor has been a hallmark of Wexler's writing career, which also includes his nonfiction books "Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church/State Wars" and "The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions," along with his work as a semi-professional Supreme Court watcher. Beginning in 2005, he explained, he has tracked the number of times justices elicit laughter as noted in the transcripts of oral arguments (he tweets about it at @scotushumor).


Wexler will read 7 p.m. Tuesday at Harvard Book Store.

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at