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A Painted House    by John Grisham order for
Painted House
by John Grisham
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2001 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

John Grisham states that A Painted House 'was inspired by my childhood in rural Arkansas.' The tale is told by a seven year old boy living in an un-painted house on a cotton farm in the 1950's. The Chandlers rent eighty acres and are used to hard work. They barely scrape a living out of the soil, but food is good and plentiful. Luke is expected to pull his weight every day in the cotton fields. He looks forward to Saturday afternoon trips to town and the weekly movie matinée, along with pop and popcorn with his friends. Luke's mother, not raised to the farming life, longs for a painted house and a better future for her son than subsistence farming can offer him.

When the cotton harvest is ready for picking, Luke's grandfather hires a truckload of Mexicans and a family of hill people from the Ozarks for the season. They live on the farm - the Mexicans in the barn and the Spruills camped in the front yard - to Luke's dismay, they've taken over the usual location for summer baseball games. The reader is introduced to the slow rhythms of farming life, punctuated by events like the (lengthy) weekly Baptist service, worrisome weather including tornadoes, baseball matches, and conflict between groups that sometimes leads to violence. Underlying all is the family's anxiety about a son, Luke's uncle, who is fighting in Korea.

Luke has a precocious interest in pretty seventeen year old Tally Spruill. He is afraid of her brother Hank, who is all too ready to put his fists to brutal use. Amongst the Mexicans is 'Cowboy' who has a mean look, a switchblade, and an attraction to Tally, which appears to be reciprocated. Through the harvest season and unknown to his parents, Luke glimpses secrets (including murder) that are frightening for a child his age. Despite that, this story is not at all the usual Grisham thriller. There's not as much depth to it and there's nary a lawyer in sight. However it is a very pleasant read, which I enjoyed, and the house does get painted in the end.

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