I've read all of Grisham's novels, and they are all
various degrees of predictably enjoyable. A Painted House is a
departure for Grisham, since it is his first non-law novel. Not a lawyer
in sight here. Instead, the story focuses on Luke, a young boy growing
up in the cotton fields of rural Arkansas, in 1952.
It's a classic coming-of-age story, and Grisham handles
it well. It's difficult for an adult to write from a child's point of
view. It's too easy to sound either a little too smart or not smart enough.
But Grisham picks the perfect balance, and Luke is utterly believable.
The most enjoyable part of the story is the psychology
of Luke's attitudes and opinions about the world. These are particularly
poignant in ordinary situations, which is why some of the more outrageous
parts of Grisham's plot seem a little out of place. Primarily, a murder
investigation seems unnecessary. I feel Grisham's writing is strong enough
that he didn't need a life-or-death plot. Maybe it's a holdover from
his law thrillers, where it is necessary. Luckily, he knows to downplay
this and give us plenty of everyday situations for Luke, which are often
overwhelming and confusing enough for a seven-year-old.
I read this as a six-part syndicated story in Oxford
American, where it was published before being collected into book
form. I highly recommend getting this version if you can find the issues,
because of the spectacular paintings that ran in the issues. I really
felt these thick, languid oil paintings added to the atmosphere of
the slowness of life for Luke and his family. They are sadly lacking
from the collected book.
A last note: if you can resist, don't read the epilogue.
I was very satisfied with the ending of the last chapter, but then I
went on to read the epilogue, which was shockingly banal and superfluous.