A Painted House Paperback – Feb 3 2004
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Ever since he published The Firm in 1991, John Grisham has remained the undisputed champ of the legal thriller. With A Painted House, however, he strikes out in a new direction. As the author is quick to note, this novel includes "not a single lawyer, dead or alive," and readers will search in vain for the kind of lowlife machinations that have been his stock-in-trade. Instead, Grisham has delivered a quieter, more contemplative story, set in rural Arkansas in 1952. It's harvest time on the Chandler farm, and the family has hired a crew of migrant Mexicans and "hill people" to pick 80 acres of cotton. A certain camaraderie pervades this bucolic dream team. But it's backbreaking work, particularly for the 7-year-old narrator, Luke: "I would pick cotton, tearing the fluffy bolls from the stalks at a steady pace, stuffing them into the heavy sack, afraid to look down the row and be reminded of how endless it was, afraid to slow down because someone would notice."
What's more, tensions begin to simmer between the Mexicans and the hill people, one of whom has a penchant for bare-knuckles brawling. This leads to a brutal murder, which young Luke has the bad luck to witness. At this point--with secrets, lies, and at least one knife fight in the offing--the plot begins to take on that familiar, Grisham-style momentum. Still, such matters ultimately take a back seat in A Painted House to the author's evocation of time and place. This is, after all, the scene of his boyhood, and Grisham waxes nostalgic without ever succumbing to deep-fried sentimentality. Meanwhile, his account of Luke's Baptist upbringing occasions some sly (and telling) humor:
I'd been taught in Sunday school from the day I could walk that lying would send you straight to hell. No detours. No second chances. Straight into the fiery pit, where Satan was waiting with the likes of Hitler and Judas Iscariot and General Grant. Thou shalt not bear false witness, which, of course, didn't sound exactly like a strict prohibition against lying, but that was the way the Baptists interpreted it.Whether Grisham will continue along these lines, or revert to the judicial shark tank for his next book, is anybody's guess. But A Painted House suggests that he's perfectly capable of telling an involving story with nary a subpoena in sight. --James Marcus --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Who needs lawyers? Not Grisham, in his captivating new novel, now between hardcovers after serialization in the Oxford American. Here there are hardscrabble farmers instead, and dirt-poor itinerant workers and a seven-year-old boy who grows up fast in a story as rich in conflict and incident as any previous Grisham and as nuanced as his very best. It's September 1952 in rural Arkansas when young narrator Luke Chandler notes that "the hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day." These folk are in Black Oak for the annual harvest of the cotton grown on the 80 acres that the Chandlers rent. The three generations of the Chandler family treat their workers more kindly than most farmers do, including engaging in the local obsession--playing baseball--with them, but serious trouble arises among the harvesters nonetheless. Most of it centers around Hank Spruill, a giant hillbilly with an equally massive temper, who one night in town beats a man dead and who throughout the book rubs up against a knife-wielding Mexican who is dating Hank's 17-year-old sister on the sly, leading to another murder. In fact, there's a mess of trouble in Luke's life, from worries about his uncle Ricky fighting in Korea to concerns about the nearby Latcher family and its illegitimate newborn baby, who may be Ricky's son. And then there are the constant fears about the weather, as much a character in this novel as any human, from the tornado that storms past the farm to the downpours that eventually flood the fields, ruining the crop and washing Luke and his family into a new life.Grisham admirers know that this author's writing has evolved with nearly every book, from the simple mechanics that made The Firm click to the manifestations of grace that made The Testament such a fine novel of spiritual reckoning. The mechanics are still visible here--as a nosy, spying boy, Luke serves as a nearly omnipresent eye to spur the novel along its course--but so, too, are characters that no reader will forget, prose as clean and strong as any Grisham has yet laid down and a drop-dead evocation of a time and place that mark this novel as a classic slice of Americana. Agent, David Gernert. (One-day laydown, Feb. 6)FORECAST: Will Grisham's fans miss the lawyers? Not hardly. This is a Grisham novel all the way, despite its surface departures from the legal thrillers, and it will be received as such, justifying the 2.8-million first printing. (For more on Grisham, see Book News, p. 178)
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition. See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Although the story is set in rural Arkansas, it speaks wonderfully of daily family life in 1952 America. The setting is a farm, the family work is cotton, the time of year is late summer/early autumn, baseball is on the radio, soldiers are dying in Korea and seven-year old Luke is learning about life the way we all learned about life back then--by active experience.
Throughout the span of the novel, Luke's family home is painted for the first time, board by board, as spare hours and funds allow. As the old home grows up, metaphorically, so, in reality, does Luke who learns the lessons we all learned early on - that where there is love, there is often hate, where there is tenderness, there is also violence, where there is hope there is also fear, where there is wanting, there is also giving, where there is life there is, certainly, death.
Grisham's writing is exceptional as he recalls the interior life of a seven year old. If you remember being seven, you'll remember this book and be enriched by the read.
The story begins just as harvest time is ready to start. The Chandler family needs help picking cotton as they do every year. Young seven year old Luke and Grandpa set out to hire farm hands. They do not have an easy task. They first engage the Spruill's, a coarse mountain family, who move from farm-to-farm each season looking for work. They realize that the Spruill's are an odd bunch, but they do not have any other choice. The cotton must be picked. They also hire Mexican migrant workers who come all the way from Mexico to Arkansas in cattle-like trailers. Mexicans are considered outsiders and are treated as second class although they work hard.
After everyone is hired, the cotton is ready to be picked and the real story begins... Seven year old Luke Chandler tells the story from his perspective. In just a few months he witnesses a murder, falls in love, watches an illegitimate child being born, observes a fight, sneaks around the adult world and learns to keep many secrets. This harvest season, he learns to grow up.
A real page-turner!
Most recent customer reviews
I love this book. I have read it three times now and it holds up every time. I belong to a book club online and have recommended it to my friends there. Read morePublished 1 month ago by samONT
This is a cotton pick-in story that brings the reader into the worries and secrets of a poor Arkansas farming family during the harvest. Read morePublished 14 months ago by MS
My favourite author strikes again! Mr. Grisham has created another tantalizing tale for us to enjoy. Intriguing to the mind!Published on Jan. 8 2014 by WhiteWitch
Boring! I can easily read a book in a day and a half. It took me weeks to finish this book.Published on April 17 2013 by Sharon Ryan
The book arrived in great shape....however the only negative thing is that it took so long.
It took just about a month to get here. Read more
This book is life changing. I read it a year ago, and I still can't stop thinking about the characters or the wonderful storyline itself. Read morePublished on Feb. 6 2005 by Starkweather,
I agree with another reviewer that this book had a very "Steinbeck" sort of flavor to it. At the time I read it, I couldn't put my finger on that, but looking back it... Read morePublished on July 27 2004
1ST let me say I love John Grisham but this was not one of his best works. It was if the story just ended. Read morePublished on July 18 2004 by Tanya McDonald