By Ekta R. Garg
September 15, 2010
Rated: Borrow it
Bought on a complete whim at the airport, I picked up Ford County because I’ve been a long-time fan of John Grisham’s novels and I wondered how he would handle the short story form. The real Ford County was the setting for Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill. After a long, successful career writing full-length novels, Grisham has gone back to that Mississippi location for the seven unrelated stories in Ford County: Stories.
When I read the first three stories, I seriously considered finding some way to return the book to the bookstore. “Blood Drive,” “Fetching Raymond,” and “Fish Files” all have unsatisfactory endings. A good short story leaves the reader hanging, wanting to know what happens next with the characters, but Grisham pushes his readers over the edge with an abrupt jerk in these three stories. “Blood Drive” is about three back-country boys on a joyride and ends with their trip going horribly wrong; “Fetching Raymond” reminded me of Grisham’s novel The Chamber with its tale of a trip to witness a prisoner’s execution; and “Fish Files” deals with the main character’s shady methods to skip town with a lot of money. Grisham chooses interesting setups for all three stories, but he can’t complete their assembly.
The last four stories, however, are much better and more reminiscent of Grisham’s indelible story-telling style. “Casino,” “Michael’s Room,” “Quiet Haven,” and “Funny Boy” provide readers with more complete storylines and adequate conclusions. Of the four, “Quiet Haven” and “Funny Boy” piqued my curiosity the most. I wanted to know more about the main characters in both and found myself shaking my head and smiling by turns as I read them.
“Quiet Haven,” told in first person, recounts the story of a young man who travels across the country taking employment at various retirement homes and manages to make money by exposing their weaknesses. Protagonist Gilbert Griffin has the knack for appearing almost blasé, but readers know he is more cunning than he seems. His internal dialogue makes us want to know how he got started doing what he does and where he might go next. Gilbert is undoubtedly smart, but there’s also a certain element of his personality that makes the reader simultaneously wary and interested.
In “Funny Boy” a small town is abuzz with the news that one of the rich kids is coming home to die of AIDS. Adrian Keane is a homosexual and knows the discrimination he will face when he comes back to his home town of Clanton. But he comes back anyway and enters into what some town residents consider a questionable living arrangement. Adrian doesn’t care, however. He is not ashamed of who he is and how he plans to live his last days, and because he is so accepting of himself he instantly becomes accepting of his caretaker, Dell. While the story ends predictably, Grisham provides us with some nice moments; he captures the racism that still exists in some parts of the country in a way that is all at once real and yet respectful of the fact that some people believe things differently than others. This fine balance proves the extent of Grisham’s talent and why he is one of the most popular novelists of our time.
For Grisham fans waiting for his next novel due out later this year, reading Ford County: Stories is a pleasant way to pass the time.
What the ratings mean:
Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection. It’s definitely worth it!
Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.
Bypass it–Free time is precious. Don’t spend it on this book!