John Grisham,
A Painted House
(Doubleday, 2001)

Having read all of John Grisham's previous work, the idea of a book written well away from the drama of the courtroom was intriguing. Could the lawyer-turned-author hold a story together using an Arkansas farm family, a group of migrant Mexican laborers, a family of seemingly ignorant hill people and a small town full of small minds? Well, not if the reader comes looking for fast-paced high drama.

Luke Chandler is 7 years old, an only child, and the hope on which his mother hangs her future. He will not be a farmer like his father and grandfather. He will attend college and make more of his life. If he gets his way about it, he'll play professional baseball -- for the Cardinals. But first, there's the cotton to harvest.

Luke lives on the family farm in Black Oak, Arkansas (who says Grisham doesn't have a sense of humor?) with his parents and grandparents. His father grew up on the farm, but his mother lived in a painted house closer to town. The Chandlers' lives are directed by the success or failure of their cotton crop, grown on land they rent, not own. Like most farm kids, Luke is well aware of the realities of life. But the adults he looks up to take care not to expose him to too much. He's just a little kid, there are things he shouldn't hear or see.

Enter the Mexicans and the hill people. Without them, the Chandler cotton will not be picked in time to beat the coming fall rains. The crop of 1952 looks to be a winner, and everyone, Luke included, is expected to pick their share. They only need six weeks. But a lot can happen in six weeks. And a little boy can grow well beyond his years in such a short time.

The story is missing the fine twists and turns Grisham fans have come to expect. But it is not without surprises. And it is a fine story, well told.

[ by Sheree Morrow ]

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