BookBin2010: A Painted House

I actually finished another book prior to this one, but I want to re-watch the movie version of that story before I post my thoughts. I think there are significant issues there that deserve addressing…but that’s for another day.

This is the point in the year at which I start looking at my book stacks, realize what a flaming sci-fi geek I am, and lament that I’m not reading enough non-sci-fi books to keep my tastes well-rounded. I’ll inevitably then start sorting through the piles, looking for something as far from science fiction as I can find. Thus, how I pulled John Grisham’s A Painted House as my next read. What makes this even worse is the fact that someone lent me their copy of this book, and I promptly released it to the wilds of my collection to languish for almost a year now. Oops.

While I’ve seen several movies based on Grisham’s novels, the only other of his novels that I’ve ever read was The Client. I loved this movie (how do you not love it? Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones? WIN!) and was equally pleased with the novel (don’t tell anyone, but I even liked the television show that starred JoBeth Williams, John Heard, and Polly “Kiss My Grits!” Holliday). However, my opinion of lawyers is about on par with my opinion of politicians, so the thought of subjecting myself to more stories that feature lawyers as heroic was about as alluring as sitting down to watch Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

[Loba Tangent: My disdain for lawyers is, of course, a blatant generalization. I have met wonderful, upstanding lawyers who are decent, lovely people. I have also met sci-fi geeks who are socially functional and don’t still live in their parents’ basement. Every opinion has its exceptions. Except mine about politicians. And Sarah Palin.]

This Grisham novel, however, has absolutely nothing to do with lawyers. There are, of course, elements of illegal behavior and there is murder, mayhem, and mystery, but overall, it is a simple, slow-paced story told from the viewpoint of Luke Chandler, a 7-year-old Arkansas farmboy. The year is 1952, it’s time to harvest the family’s 80 acres of cotton, and “hill people” and Mexican laborers have been hired to help the Chandler family with the picking. To pass the limited free time he has, Luke listens to baseball on the family radio, dreams of the day when he’ll play for the St. Louis Cardinals, and harbors a secret crush on Tally Spruill, the daughter of the family of hill people his grandfather hired for the harvest season.

This is a period piece of such strong Southern flavor that you can almost taste the fried okra and sweet tea being served at the annual Baptist picnic. Since I hate okra, sweet tea makes my teeth ache from the sugar overload, and I find Baptists about as pleasant as a hungry lion with hemorrhoids (again, another generalization), I didn’t find a whole lot in this list to savor. I think that’s my biggest complaint about this story: not that it’s not written well (it’s an age-appropriate delivery, respectful of the fact that the narrator is a child but also not overdoing this truth and thus making it unreadable), but that it’s a tale and a time about which I don’t really have any interest.

What, in my mind at least, had the potential of being as exemplary a Southern tale as To Kill a Mockingbird instead delivered a story of predictability and, I’m sad to say, mediocrity. There wasn’t really much of anything in this story that you couldn’t see marching across the cotton fields a mile away. And, to be honest, the titular task could give serious competition as one of the most anti-climactic moments in literary history.

Final Verdict: I’m not regretful that I read this story, but I also see no reason to seek out my own copy or to ever revisit these characters again. I shall be returning this to its owner with a humble apology for taking this long to finish it and a heartfelt thank you for lending it to me and introducing me to something beyond the confines of my geeky preferences.

And now back to our regularly scheduled literary geekery…