A Painted House by John Grisham

(No Series)

Until that September of 1952, Luke Chandler had never kept a secret or told a single lie. But in the long, hot summer of his seventh year, two groups of migrant workers — and two very dangerous men — came through the Arkansas Delta to work the Chandler cotton farm. And suddenly mysteries are flooding Luke’s world.

A brutal murder leaves the town seething in gossip and suspicion. A beautiful young woman ignites forbidden passions. A fatherless baby is born ... and someone has begun furtively painting the bare clapboards of the Chandler farmhouse, slowly, painstakingly, bathing the run-down structure in gleaming white. And as young Luke watches the world around him, he unravels secrets that could shatter lives — and change his family and his town forever....

Grishams' novel is not his typical suspense fare, but instead suspense takes a slight backseat to this literary novel. Written with a calming, soothing style, the world weaved is almost a breathing poem.

Narrated by the seven year old Luke Chandler, it's easy to lose yourself in his world. A world filled with tedious labor, strained financial times, small town quibbles, and baseball magic. As a very southern family, the concern of the hour is cotton, vegetable picking, canning, and drinking iced tea. His mother wants nothing other than a different life for her son, while the grandparents are the kind that will live on the land and die with the land. This bittersweet reality was a true one to swallow, and while it's a completely different situation than I was raised in, it was easy to emphasize with.

Character wise, five stars. Suspense wise, not as much. It's obvious Grisham didn't want to dish out his usual stuff, and while I kept turning the pages to find more of the suspenseful plot, it kept dying down for life to be led, then later picked up again. Really the suspense was only tight and knuckle binding in a few scenes; otherwise, it was a slowly paced novel which entertained a more leisurely level.

Thankfully not predictable, I was a bit surprised with the turn-out between two rivals in the story, and Grisham did not hold back on the harsh, unfair realities of the hard life these people led. Rather than the plot focusing on a suspenseful murder or an unsettling event, it's really an unfolding of a seven year old who must keep secrets to protect both himself and his family, witnessing the extreme sacrifices his parents and grandparents make for the family, what the town itself must endure to survive. A family holding onto a tradition that has passed and that it should move on from to survive with the rest of the world, teaching the lesson of what happens when you don't accept inevitable change.

While an enjoyable tale that caught my attention and held it, I was disappointed with the ending. There was not a wrap up with two large subplots that dominated the book, and the boy's life. The outcome of one in particular, which worried the family throughout the entire story, would be an important one in Luke's life. Besides not having these wrapped up and left wondering, I felt a bit more suspense and play-up of such important events as the murder and tension resulting from it would have added to the story's strength.

While flaws ARE present, it could never be argued that Grisham's literary style is not clever and downright beautiful. The man really is a master with his words, better than the amateur painting of the story's house in question. If you're a fan of this writer, you owe it to yourself to indulge in this delightful story about a boy who sees all he should - and shouldn't.

   Book Quotes:

“I was tired of secrets, tired of seeing things I was not supposed to see. And so I just cried.” 

“Once again, I was reminded that Tally was the prettiest girl I'd ever met, and when she smiled at me my mind went blank. Once you've seen a pretty girl naked, you feel a certain attachment to her.”  

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