My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Not a legal thriller, which I think is a departure for Grisham. The novel, reportedly inspired by his own childhood, takes place in Arkansas in 1952. (Of note, Grisham (like me) was born in 1955.) The story is narrated by Luke Chandler, a seven-year-old boy, the son of tenant cotton farmers. He wonderfully evokes rural 1952: inter-church baseball games (Baptists against Methodists), church sermons, the traveling carnival – but most of all the social strata and relationships. I don’t remember how insightful I was at seven, but sometimes Luke’s comments seem more like those of a young teen. Maybe kids who get off school to pick the cotton mature faster, though.
The story revolves around the relationships, liaisons and quarrels among Luke’s family (tenant farmers), a family of sharecroppers whose teenage daughter is pregnant by Luke’s young uncle, and the itinerant “hands” who camp out on the farm for a few weeks during the picking season: a family of “hill people” from the Ozarks and a work gang of Mexicans brought in by truck. With the impunity of childhood, Luke moves freely among these groups and sees much.
I listened to a recording of A Painted House with narration by Peter Marinker. His reading was too breathy for my taste, but the story was so gripping that it didn’t matter.
My recommendation: Excellent. Definitely worth a read or listen.