Think John Grisham and what comes to mind? A lawsuit, courtroom sagas, high-voltage verbal battles, pages spilling over with stories of juries, clients, defendants, and testimony. So what’s new, you ask? Read "A Painted House" to find out.
Even before I was through with the first chapter, I was having trouble believing that it was a Grisham I was reading. He has made the transition from a courtroom to the cotton fields of Arkansas so effectively that it’s commendable. The story line and plot are simple, unfolding through the eyes of seven-year-old Luke Chandler, born into a family of farmers. His farm and his ramshackle unpainted house are the only world he has ever known. It’s astonishing how a story with no scandals, no dramatic twists, and no thrilling escapades can grab your attention from the word go, and what’s more, keep it firmly riveted right through till the end of the novel. All the above ingredients have been replaced in this book by yarns of the weather, of the village carnival, of cotton fields that stretch as far as the eye can see, of farmers struggling to make ends meet...and Grisham makes them work!
"A Painted House" is a narrative of a little boy’s journey through childhood, his experiences, his secrets, his triumphs and his sorrows. It tells us of rural America of the 1950’s, glimpses of which are fairly uncommon nowadays. The character of the protagonist in particular has been handled very sensitively, although the Mexicans and the Spruill family have been well-etched too. Luke’s own family though, has not been developed as well as it could have been. His father and grandmother come through as particularly stereotypical; there is nothing to distinguish them from scores of other grandmas and daddies in other books.
The novel maintains a steady pace and, to its author’s credit, never slackens. It seems like the kind of tale to which there is no suitable conclusion, but the end is possibly the best part of it, because it leaves the reader unsure of what to feel. Most of Grisham’s previous works can hardly be described as moving, but this one certainly is.
All in all, "A Painted House" is a marked departure from Grisham’s usual style, and that’s just one of the many reasons for which you might want to read it. Pick it up if you haven’t already, and you won’t be disappointed.This article was first published on 11 Jun 2001.