Who needs lawyers? Not Grisham, in his captivating new novel, now between hardcovers after serialization in the Oxford American. Here there are hardscrabble farmers instead, and dirt-poor itinerant workers and a seven-year-old boy who grows up fast in a story as rich in conflict and incident as any previous Grisham and as nuanced as his very best. It's September 1952 in rural Arkansas when young narrator Luke Chandler notes that "the hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day." These folk are in Black Oak for the annual harvest of the cotton grown on the 80 acres that the Chandlers rent. The three generations of the Chandler family treat their workers more kindly than most farmers do, including engaging in the local obsessionDplaying baseballDwith them, but serious trouble arises among the harvesters nonetheless. Most of it centers around Hank Spruill, a giant hillbilly with an equally massive temper, who one night in town beats a man dead and who throughout the book rubs up against a knife-wielding Mexican who is dating Hank's 17-year-old sister on the sly, leading to another murder. In fact, there's a mess of trouble in Luke's life, from worries about his uncle Ricky fighting in Korea to concerns about the nearby Latcher family and its illegitimate newborn baby, who may be Ricky's son. And then there are the constant fears about the weather, as much a character in this novel as any human, from the tornado that storms past the farm to the downpours that eventually flood the fields, ruining the crop and washing Luke and his family into a new life. Grisham admirers know that this author's writing has evolved with nearly every book, from the simple mechanics that made The Firm click to the manifestations of grace that made The Testament such a fine novel of spiritual reckoning. The mechanics are still visible hereDas a nosy, spying boy, Luke serves as a nearly omnipresent eye to spur the novel along its courseDbut so, too, are characters that no reader will forget, prose as clean and strong as any Grisham has yet laid down and a drop-dead evocation of a time and place that mark this novel as a classic slice of Americana. Agent, David Gernert. (One-day laydown, Feb. 6) FORECAST: Will Grisham's fans miss the lawyers? Not hardly. This is a Grisham novel all the way, despite its surface departures from the legal thrillers, and it will be received as such, justifying the 2.8-million first printing. (For more on Grisham, see Book News, p. 178) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Worlds away from his usual legal dramas, this departure for John Grisham has produced a wonderfully evocative novel. Set in the late summer of 1952 in the cotton-growing regions of Arkansas, the story is told through the eyes of eight-year-old Luke Chandler. Born and raised on his grandfather's cotton farm, like his father before him, he dreams of a world beyond the cotton fields, only existing in his imagination from what he has heard on the radio. But first and foremost is the cotton picking to be done before the rains come.. Outside help in the form of Mexican labourers and hill people is recruited bringing with it antagonism and racism which will eventually culminate in murder. Within 20 pages you are hooked, watching and feeling this tough life through young Luke's eyes. Set against the strict Baptist upbringing of these poor farmers, Grisham gives an intense picture of a hard, insular life where everything revolves around the cotton crop. All the characters are memorable from Pappy who spends his life worrying about the weather to Hank, the Spruill's violent unstable son, to Cowboy the shifty Mexican. And he does not forget the women of this tough world who live in the background quietly ruling the roost and supporting their men without question. A memorable book marking a dramatic change of direction for Grisham - one which this reviewer for one hopes he continues. - Lucy Watson
Lucas Chandler is a seven-year-old boy who lives in an unpainted house on an Arkansas farm with his parents and grandparents in the early 1950s. He loves Coca-Cola, baseball, and the St. Louis Cardinals, and he plans on using the money he earns picking cotton to buy a shiny baseball jacket from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Soon after the hired crews of Mexicans and "hill people" arrive to help pick the Chandler family's 80 acres of cotton, Lucas sees things that cause him to lose his innocence much earlier than he should and long for the days when he did not have to keep secrets or worry about his and his family's safety. Legal thriller master Grisham changes direction with this lawyer-free coming-of-age novel, and the results are stunning. Featuring vivid descriptions, bits of humor, and a thrilling pace, this is a suspenseful and satisfying read. [This novel was first serialized in The Oxford American. Ed.] Samantha J. Gust, Niagara Univ. Lib., NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.