Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ford County – John Grisham

© 2009 New York, Doubleday

I like Grisham’s fiction. There, I’ve said it, and I stand by it. Admittedly I like some better than others. In conversations with others, I have discovered that I like the ones that others don’t like (and vice versa). But because I like Grisham fiction, it was natural that I pick up a copy of his collection of stories set in his fictional Ford County, Mississippi—which was the setting of one of his better novels (and his first) A Time to Kill. Now for the first time since his debut novel, Grisham comes home to Ford County.

As a simple explanation, quietly between the book title and the author’s name on the front cover, rests the word “Stories.” The publisher could well have put the word “Snapshots,” because that is what you will find, snapshots of Ford County and its semi-redneck residents. The stories are not really related in their content aside from the fact that they are set in Ford County (and several of them deal with lawyers—which you would come to expect from Grisham).

The stories are fairly short and swift to read. One encounter follows three family members as they drive to death row to be with the youngest member of the family in his last hours before execution. (I much preferred this treatment to Grisham’s earlier, much longer work The Chamber.) Of particular interest are the opening story “Blood Drive,” the last story “Funny Boy,” and the next to the last “Quiet Haven.”

Blood Drive” chronicles the adventures of three young men who are loosely commissioned by the community of Box Hill to drive to Memphis to provide blood for one of their own who is reported to be on his deathbed after a work-related accident. “Funny Boy” watches the gay son of a prominent Clanton family who comes home to die of AIDS only to be rebuffed by everyone but the elderly black woman who is willing to care for him. Small town politics, prejudices, and power plays are revealed in vivid color. Even so, I particularly enjoyed “Quiet Haven,” the tale of a traveling nursing home worker who embeds himself into the lives of the elderly residents long enough to find personal gain as well as revenge on the abusive system. This story bears the unique honor of being told from the voice of the conniving narrator.

The three highlighted stories are worth the price of the book, and the others won’t disappoint. The seven stories in the covers of Ford County will entertain you, keep you guessing, and occasionally make you laugh. It is well worth your time at 4 ½ out of 5 reading glasses.

Benjamin Potter, January 7, 2010

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