In his first collection of short stories John Grisham takes us back to Ford County, Mississippi, the setting of his first novel, A Time to Kill.
Wheelchair-bound Inez Graney and her two older sons, Leon and Butch, take a bizarre road trip through the Mississippi Delta to visit the youngest Graney brother, Raymond, who’s been locked away on death row for eleven years. It could well be their last visit.
Mack Stafford, a hard-drinking and low-grossing run-of-the-mill divorce lawyer, gets a miracle phone call with a completely unexpected offer to settle some old, forgotten cases for more money than he has ever seen. Mack is suddenly bored with the law, fed up with his wife and his life, and makes drastic plans to finally escape.
Quiet, dull Sidney, a data collector for an insurance company, perfects his blackjack skills in hopes of bringing down the casino empire of Clanton’s most ambitious hustler, Bobby Carl Leach, who, among other crimes, has stolen Sidney’s wife.
Three good ol’ boys from rural Ford County begin a journey to the big city of Memphis to give blood to a grievously injured friend. However, they are unable to drive past a beer store as the trip takes longer and longer. The journey comes to an abrupt end when they make a fateful stop at a Memphis strip club.
The Quiet Haven Retirement Home is the final stop for the elderly of Clanton. It’s a sad, languid place with little controversy, until Gilbert arrives. Posing as a low-paid bedpan boy, he is in reality a brilliant stalker with an uncanny ability to sniff out the assets of those “seniors” he professes to love.
One of the hazards of litigating against people in a small town is that one day, long after the trial, you will probably come face-to-face with someone you’ve beaten in a lawsuit. Lawyer Stanley Wade bumps into an old adversary, a man with a long memory, and the encounter becomes a violent ordeal.
Clanton is rocked with the rumor that the gay son of a prominent family has finally come home, to die. Of AIDS. Fear permeates the town as gossip runs unabated. But in Lowtown, the colored section of Clanton, the young man finds a soul mate in his final days.
Featuring a cast of characters you’ll never forget, these stories bring Ford County to vivid and colorful life. Often hilarious, frequently moving, and always entertaining, this collection makes it abundantly clear why John Grisham is our most popular storyteller.
What I thought
Although it seems like an odd place to start, this was my first real read of John Grisham’s work (I read Skipping Christmas years ago). I will definitely be reading more, although I won’t lie, I’m kind of disappointed to hear that this is out of the norm for his writing.
As a whole, I really enjoyed this collection. I’m a very big fan of Southern lit, and I felt that Grisham truly portrayed the Deep South with genuine authenticity. The reason why I’d give this collection 3.5 stars is because while I did like the first 3 stories, I really loved the last 4. The unevenness is what kept this from being a solid 4 star for me.
So, I’m just going to give some short wrap-up thought on the stories:
– “Blood Drive” – I thought this one was darkly hilarious. I mean, I felt like I was reading something off a darker version of the Dukes of Hazzard, it had so much slapstick humor at times. I will say, I wasn’t expecting such a gritty ending.
– “Fetching Raymond” – This was definitely moving–between an elderly mother’s unconditional love for her youngest son on death row and his brothers’ almost stoic detachment.
– “Fish Files” – What I liked about this one was that you almost can’t help but root for this lawyer, even though he’s actively swindling money.
– “Casino” – I don’t know why, but I really love reading stories about people figuring out how to win big at blackjack. I have never gambled & have NO clue how in the hell to play blackjack. But this story was highly entertaining to me.
– “Michael’s Room” – I LOVED this story. It was my second favorite of the collection. A lawyer actually REALLY having to see the consequences of a lawsuit he won for a client. Violent, but also heartbreaking & eye-opening.
– “Quiet Haven” – I absolutely love unreliable narrators, and that’s all I’m gonna say about this one. Really enjoyed it, expertly done.
– “Funny Boy” – Oh, my heart. This was, by far, my favorite story of the collection. The ending had me tearing up. (The last line of Adrian’s letter to Emporia KILLED me.) This story made my heart physically ache, it moved me that much. It blew me away–I was not expecting that from John Grisham.
Overall, this collection is definitely worth checking out, especially if you are in the mood for authentic, gritty Southern lit.
I also want to leave the link for Part 1 of a short 4-part series of videos that John Grisham did where he just kinda talks about this collection of stories and about his inspiration for writing them. It was very interesting (if you’re into that sort of thing), so here’s the link for Part 1: