John Grisham has made a kingís ransom with his legal thrillers, but to be honest, only
the first two were really good books. After that, all of his legal books read like they
were written in order to make movies from them. None of his latter legal books have
quite the emotion of A Time to Kill, or the raw energy of The Firm. They
all seem to have the same basic plot and formula, perfect for reading on the subway or at
the beach, but not really much of anything else.
When he steps away from
that money making format, like he did with Bleachers, he
shows the world that he is a really good writer. In A Painted House, he reaches
back into the rural Arkansas of 1952 to tell the story of a single cotton harvest and the
impact it had on the life of a seven year old boy.
The cotton is ready
to be picked when the book opens and the narrator, one Luke Chandler, is riding in the
family pick-up truck with his Pappy to find help for the harvest. The two of them are
headed into the mighty metropolis of Black Oak, Arkansas, to see if the Mexican labor
theyíve been promised has arrived yet. On the way theyíve got to try and hire some hill
people to help with the crop too. They get both, and more than they could imagine by the
time they return to the farm.
Lukeís inner voice is a bit more mature than
most seven-year-olds that I know of, but itís a convincing one none the less. This book
is about the crop, the iterant workers who come to harvest it, a flood, a family in
transition, and a way of life that no longer exists in America. Mostly, itís about a boy
who learns more, and is witness to more than most people, than he should be and how he
deals with those events. There are some moments in the book that are gruesome and some
that are simply good, human moments.
This book starts slow and takes its
own sweet time building any real momentum. The wait is worth it in a book that makes the
reader genuinely care about the characters and where their lives go after the cotton
harvest of 1952.