John Grisham's new novel, "Bleachers," is another of his forays into regular fiction. I am always wary of when an author tries new things, but after the success of his other non-legal thrillers ("Skipping Christmas" and "A Painted House") I was excited to read this book. Unfortunately, the book failed to excite me.
Neely Crenshaw is going back home to Messina, a small Mississippi town, to attend the funeral of his old football coach Eddie Rake. Neely has also come back to chase some ghosts that have haunted him: the lights of the football field, a girl he loved and coach Eddie Rake, a man that Neely loved to hate. Neely left Messina and had not returned for fifteen years.
When Neely arrives, the town is already in mourning, though not much has changed in fifteen years. Eddie Rake is, according to rumor, holding on by a thread, close to death and wasting away. Neely stops at the football field, the bleachers, where his life was shaped for him. Neely had been an All American football player, number 19 and famous at eighteen. The bleachers and the field shaped him and made him who he was.
Others begin to gather at the field, an impromptu vigil for Rake. As more and more football players arrive, they all begin to rehash the old games, the old plays. Each has a story to tell or a memory of the game, of Rake. The Spartans won thirteen titles, all under the tutelage of Coach Eddie Rake. There are a lot of memories in thirteen titles.
Neely also has some unfinished business to take care of. A girl he hurt fifteen years ago. Will she be able to forgive him after all this time? And, as the town continues to mourn, questions are asked: what happened in the game where Neely broke his wrist? What happened in the locker room that day? And what happened to Coach Rake?
As Neely tries to decide whether or not he hates or loves Coach Rake, others get ready to wait for Rake's death. They want to know what happened, what went down. Is Neely finally ready to unravel a secret that is fifteen years old?
If you love football, you will probably like "Bleachers". I'm not a big football fan, but that didn't take away from the book too much. Grisham's descriptive writing makes you feel as if you are there, as if you can see the sweat on the player's backs. Unfortunately, good writing is all that is good about this book.
The book is really short, for one thing; at a slim 163 pages, I was able to finish it in a day. Not much happens, either. There is one plot to the book and it could have been written in ten pages. Basically, in 163 pages, nothing happens. Neely goes home, the coach is buried, a bunch of men reminisce about the past and that's it. There are no surprises here.
I found the people in Messina to be lacking as well. The characters are flat with little to no depth and I found I didn't really care whether or not Neely forgave his coach or made nice with his ex-girlfriend. I didn't connect to anyone in this story, which made it hard to care about the book's resolution.
"Bleachers" should have been marketed as a short story rather than a novel. While Grisham is able to bring to life small town Mississippi, you may not want to stay there very long. Now, don't get me wrong here: this isn't a bad book; it's just not a particularly good one and certainly not the calibre that we're used to seeing from Grisham.
I'd save this one for a quiet afternoon where you can lose yourself in a short story. It's an okay read and it will have football fans drooling for more.