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A Painted House - John Grisham
Member Name: KingHerrod
A Painted House - John Grisham
Date: 26/02/02, updated on 27/02/02 (354 review reads)
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Having said all that, I was getting tired of his legal thrillers they often had a hole filled plot line, an overly simplistic moral take on the world and were frankly often easy to see the end of after 20 pages. So I had decided not to read Grisham, but then came a different kind of work from him. The critics loved it and it sat in the Times must read list for a few weeks. Anything that sits in that list I have enjoyed, so it was a return to Grisham for me.
A Painted House is nothing like Grisham has ever written; it is more along the lines of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, than city slicker lawyer. It tells the tale from the perspective of a seven-year old boy of a farming summer in the Black Oak area of rural Arkansas, 1952, the hardships and the small joys and frustrations of being a kid.
The Chandlers farm cotton, it is back breaking work for little reward. Luke, our seven year old is dreaming of owning a Cardinals baseball jacket, and his summer, picking the family's cotton should yield enough dollars for this childlike desire. The Chandlers sit in the middle of Black Oak's social scale, they part own and part rent their land, higher than share croppers, that pick almost solely for the land owners benefit in a very feudal way, but lower than those that own all their own land. The C
handler's land is not the worst, but not the best. I am sure you get the picture.
The tale is simple enough and one that probably reflects any small town in the deep south of America, the prying, the need to know other peoples business, the fear of what other people think of you, the struggle of the farmers to compete for their labour with the big factories of northern America and the struggle of a family to bring up their children with little money to go around.
However, the narrative of the story is driven by secrets, the secret of who fathered the local sharecropper's daughter's illegitimate baby, the secrets of murder and brutal beatings and the secret that will in the end cause Luke's grandfather nothing but disappointment. It is Luke that feels the burden of secrets and the burden of discovering what life is like, as the cotton picking season gets underway and then draws to a close. As far as Luke is concerned the summer becomes one of if onlys, if only they had hired different labour, if only their old Mexicans had returned.......
The story moves at a slow pace, but draws you in to the small minded, small town world, but is beautifully written. Grisham really captures the essence of childhood:
"I made secret Christmas lists in my mind. I was afraid to write down all the things I dreamed of. Someone might find such a list and think that I was either hopelessly greedy or mentally ill."
Grisham captures the joy and marvel that the world holds for children, how a simple Carnival holds many a secret pleasure and in certain parts of the book I was almost transported back to my own childhood, tearing around the forest with dreams of being Bryan Robson. For Luke it is Baseball, he is convinced that he will be a big draw Baseball player, just as I was convinced that I would score a hat-trick for Manchester United against Liverpool, of course my hat-trick would be scored in the last ten minut
es, when Liverpool had been 2-0 up and would win United the title. We all have our childhood dreams.
A Painted House is not a classic book, it won't change your view of anything, but it is a nice story, well told and beautifully written. It captures childhood and even though this was set in 1952, it captures elements of childhood that I could identify with. This is a nice comfortable read, it is not taxing and is one of those books that starts to feel cosy after about 50 pages. If you are a thriller person and loved his legal thrillers then you will probably not like this. But if you were like me and were indifferent to his other work and wanted something with a little more substance, then I think this will appeal.
A Painted House is out in paperback, published by arrow and priced £6.99. It is half price on Amazon at the moment and at that price you cannot really go wrong.
The Times said that this was Grisham's best work yet, and I would agree, it is his best work by a long way. I for one hope he continues to write like this and leaves the some times tacky thrillers alone.