Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Playing for Pizza – John Grisham

When John Grisham writes about lawyers and courtrooms he is in his element. When he writes of rural southern United States life he waxes eloquent. When he moves to other arenas he reaches touch and go status.

Playing for Pizza is different from Grisham’s last football novel The Bleachers in that the game is the point of the story. What catches your attention is that American football (football americano) is seen through the lens of Italian life. Rick Dockery, a third-string quarterback who has no future with the NFL wakes up in the hospital remembering none of his stellar downfall in Cleveland, and learning that he wants to hear nothing about it as well. His agent Arnie works diligently to get him a position on a team (any team) so that the young quarterback can continue living the dream—playing in the NFL.

He finds himself in Parma, Italy, with a contract to play for the Panthers who hope to realize their first Italian Super Bowl, and expect as much with the only NFL player in the league. What he really finds is a league which allows only three Americans on each team with teams that would often have trouble facing high school teams in the USA. Aside from the Americans, the players play for the love of the game and for the pizza and beer that follows.

Grisham is only half on his game in this tale of sports, travel, and romance. Characters are poorly developed and the plot runs hot and cold. High spots in the reading are the romance with an Italian opera singer whose career and life seem to mirror the hero’s flagging football career. Just as the reader gets ready to see a legitimate reason for continuing with the story, the love interest gets replaced to disappear into oblivion. With the exception of the final three chapters the football sequences are uninspired, the food descriptions flat, and the travel scenes laborious.

What saves this book is that this time Grisham promises a football book and delivers one that actually has football in it—not just the memories of former players. Should you read this book? Only if you love football, Italy, and food (not necessarily in that order). Playing for Pizza gets 2 thumbs because Grisham has much better stories to tell. If you’d like to read one, pick up A Time to Kill, or A Painted House. If you’re out for one of his lighter reads, Skipping Christmas is the way to go.

—Benjamin Potter, November 6, 2007

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