A Painted House

by John Grisham

Hardcover, 2001

Call number




Doubleday (2001), Edition: 1st, 400 pages


Fiction. Literature. Suspense. Thriller. HTML:#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER �?� Until that September of 1952, Luke Chandler had never kept a secret or told a single lie. But in the long, hot summer of his seventh year, two groups of migrant workers �?? and two very dangerous men �?? came through the Arkansas Delta to work the Chandler cotton farm. And suddenly mysteries are flooding Luke�??s world. A brutal murder leaves the town seething in gossip and suspicion. A beautiful young woman ignites forbidden passions. A fatherless baby is born ... and someone has begun furtively painting the bare clapboards of the Chandler farmhouse, slowly, painstakingly, bathing the run-down structure in gleaming white. And as young Luke watches the world around him, he unravels secrets that could shatter lives �?? and change his family and his t… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ennuiprayer
Remember that thing I said about Koontz? Yeah, same goes for this book by Grisham.

The following might have hated it, but this was a work of art.
LibraryThing member davidabrams
You won’t find any lawyers or courtrooms in John Grisham’s newest novel, A Painted House. No sireebob, this is a horse (or, house) of a different color.

It seems the attorney-turned-publishing commodity has reached the point in his career where the annual publication of an
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automatically-bestselling legal thriller is, perhaps, getting a bit old-hat. What we need here, folks, is something completely different to revive routine blood—something like, oh I dunno, a coming-of-age tale told by the seven-year-old son of an Arkansas cotton farmer; something without legal eagles; something with only sporadic thrills; something to show the world that even though Grisham writes airplane-ride fiction, he secretly pines to be accepted as a serious literary author.

It’s a risky move. Most members of the Rocket-Propelled Bestsellers Club (Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Sue Grafton, et al) rarely stray far from the well-cropped pastures of their established genres. Even when King goes legit (Different Seasons, Hearts in Atlantis), there remain shades of darkness and monsters. So, you’ve got to admire a fellow like Grisham who tosses the dice with a book like A Painted House. Will he disappoint long-time fans expecting more Southern-fried justice? Will he recruit readers who wouldn’t ordinarily pick up a paperback where the words “#1 Bestseller�€? dominate half the front cover? Will Clancy decide to jump in the fray by writing a bodice-ripping romance?

Only time (and a blitz of hype from Grisham’s publisher) will tell.

I should mention that I’ve never read any of Mr. Grisham’s other books (not even on long airplane trips). I’m only familiar with his works by way of Hollywood (ranging from the horrid A Time to Kill to the excellent The Rainmaker). So, while I can’t tell you how A Painted House compares to The Brethren, I’m happy to report it’s a cotton-pickin’ good read on its own merits. It will never reach solid gold classic status like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, but it does bring to life a time, a place and a set of characters who burn bright in your mind…at least until you turn the final page and move on to the next book waiting patiently on your bedside table.

A Painted House is the story of a single harvesting season in the autumn of 1952 when the Cardinals are trailing the Dodgers by five games (baseball, that easy nostalgia tool of writers, figures prominently). The narrator is pint-sized Luke Chandler, the only son of Jesse and Kathleen and grandson to Pappy and Gran. One other significant family member, Luke’s Uncle Ricky, is away on the front lines of the Korean War—a constant fret-and-worry for the whole family. They’re a close, patriarchal family who enjoy the rewards of hard work followed by Sunday dinners and listening to Harry Caray announce ball games on nighttime radio.

From the start, I realized A Painted House has the down-home goodness of The Waltons and contains as many of that show’s gentle pleasures. It also has a fair share of flat-footed prose and corny sentiment. The characters have the depth of an RC Cola bottle (half-drunk, no less) and they move in ways we’ve all seen before. But yet, gosh durn it, I found myself getting caught up in their simple life and its many predicaments.

The story opens as Pappy hires migrant workers—Mexicans and “hill peopleâ€?—to pick the crop on the struggling farm. No single event defines the plot. Instead, A Painted House has many rooms, a series of “life bookmarksâ€? for young Luke. The episodic nature of the novel is due to the fact it was first serialized in Oxford American, the bi-monthly magazine the author publishes. In the space of six weeks and 400 pages, Luke witnesses two murders, a childbirth, a tornado, a flood, his first nekkid girl and his first televised baseball game.

Land sakes! At thirty-seven, I realize I’ve led a pretty dull life by comparison.

Grisham does cram a lot of “coming-of-age-ismsâ€? into this young boy’s life and the tone occasionally adopts a too-sophisticated veneer, but it’s all in the name of easy-to-read fiction. Don’t come expecting Great Literature on the order of that “otherâ€? Oxford, Mississippi scribe, William Faulkner, and you won’t be disappointed. On the other hand, if you’re thinking this is going to be just another annual Grisham event, you might be pleasantly surprised—kind of like how you felt that moment you saw your first nekkid girl.
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LibraryThing member thorold
Pleasant enough, but it needs something else to offset the endless, grinding, back-breaking rural nostalgia. If it had been written 50 years earlier it would have been a wonderful starting point for a Rogers and Hammerstein musical.

Obviously, if you have a story with a child narrator set in the
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rural southern US, you are expecting poverty, prejudice, rape, murder, and miscarriages of justice. Or some kind of melodramatic climax, anyway. This book does have its moments, it's true, but they all seem to fizzle out rather: Nothing that happens in the story really has any serious consequences for the main characters. Life goes on, there'll be another church picnic next year, and the Cardinals will have another crack at winning the baseball competition. That's pretty much how real life works, but transferred to fiction it's rather dull. It's a bit strange to have something that looks as though it's meant to be a coming-of-age novel, but where the characters don't develop at all in the course of the story. Young Luke is just as worldly-wise at the beginning as he is at the end.

A child narrator automatically implies that the author has to cheat a bit to get the right mix of immature perception and adult hindsight, so that we believe it's really a child talking to us, but get a story that is interesting enough to retain the attention of an adult reader over a few hundred pages. Grisham evidently doesn't have the Harper Lee touch, and entirely fails to make Luke a plausible seven-year-old. Eleven or twelve he might just get away with, but even allowing for the fact that we're talking tough kids in the depths of the countryside, seven is just too young for the voice Luke talks to us in.
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LibraryThing member yhslibrary
A young 7 year old growing up on a cotton farm begins to recognize that his family lives a hard life in an unpainted house. Despite the poverty there is hope. Descriptive novel.
LibraryThing member sidiki
He is a master of whatever genre he writes in. Legal thrillers are not my cup of tea and I am grateful that he wrote a literary novel about his childhood for us to read. Enjoyed it and would want to read it again
LibraryThing member DanaJean
When I began reading this, I was a-skeered it was going to be like The Grapes of Wrath which I couldn't stand. (Just writing The Grapes of Wrath made be seize--oops, there I go again.) Fortunately for me, the story was told from a young boy's point of view and I enjoyed it very much. Just a nice
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snapshot of growing up in Arkansas--busting a living picking cotton, back in the days when there were more have-not people than haves.

Reminded me of the stories my grandparents told.
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LibraryThing member soosthemoose
Interesting and unique book by John Grisham. Totally different from anything else I have read by him.
LibraryThing member vegaheim
little farm boy witnesses murder. great writing, funny, sad at times. couln't believe it was grisham. great
LibraryThing member koalamom
Different from his "lawyer" mysteries, though a murder does take place. The story centers around a 7-year old boy who suddenly finds himself inundated with terrible secrets that he can't share with anyone - a lot to ask for a kid that age.
LibraryThing member ohdani
A little slow to read, but mildly entertaining nonetheless.
LibraryThing member estellen
A somewhat bland childhood memoir - easy to read and easy to forget.
LibraryThing member chasehimself08
A great novel by John Grisham. It tells the eventful story of a young boy working on his farm in the fall of 1952.
LibraryThing member sallyanny
His second best novel in my opinion, following A Time To Kill as his best.
LibraryThing member gtnorvell
My first Grisham book. I heard about it when Billy Moyers interviewed him and checked it out the next day.
LibraryThing member slkrbru
I want to write to John Grisham and thank him for this book I enjoyed it so much. The characters and story were outstanding and I finished the book wanting it to go on for much longer.
LibraryThing member LibrarysCat
This book contained interesting cultural insights. Having grown up in the mid-South, I felt they were accurate. However the book did not really hold my interest.
LibraryThing member pippi-longstockings
I love his law novels but not any books written outseide this genre, so I was pleasantly surprised when I read this book. It is a beautifuly written book. I will add this to my xmas list of books to give people.
LibraryThing member bettyjo
This is my favorite Grisham book. I loved the coming of age story for this boy on the farm.
LibraryThing member LatrellMickler
John Grisham is much better when he writes books concerning the legal profession.
LibraryThing member madamejeanie
I'm a big fan of Grisham and have read almost all of his works, but I
wasn't too excited about the three that he's written (so far) that move away
from his established territory of the legal thriller. Last month I read
"Bleachers." This week I finally got around to reading "A Painted House."
I bought
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it in paperback, which is unusual for me and a Grisham book. I
usually buy them hot off the press.

This one is a quiet tale, the story of a poor cotton farming family in
Arkansas in 1952. It is told from the perspective of a 7 year old boy, son
and grandson of the family. It's time to pick the cotton crop and everybody
works like dogs. The family hires some "hill people," a scruffy family
named Spruill, and manages to hire 10 Mexican illegals who came into town on
a cattle truck. It's late summer and hotter than Hell itself. One of the
hill people is a huge hulk of a man with a sour attitude and a chip the size
of a cinder block on his shoulder, and one of the Mexicans carries a
switchblade and isn't afraid to use it. When the coming autumn brings
unseasonal torrential rain, the entire crop is threatened, and with it,
their very way of life.

There's tension and tenderness in this book, and Grisham tells the story so
well I felt like I was there. This certainly wasn't his usual work, but it
was a very satisfying read, nonetheless. I hated to see it end. I'd give
it a 4.
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LibraryThing member bookenthusiast100
A charming little novel about a boy who lives in the country at a time when life is still simple.
LibraryThing member MsBeautiful
mystery, not his best, didn't finish
LibraryThing member gilly1944
A very good "yarn", transports you into the life of a young boy in the cotton fields.
LibraryThing member readingrat
This book is one of a handful where Grisham has departed from his usual courtroom drama genre. I was really impressed with his writing here. This is a richly detailed and enthralling character-driven period tale told from the point of view of a 7 year-old boy during his last cotton harvest on his
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grandparents' Arkansas farm.
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LibraryThing member santhony
This is a rather short, but pleasantly surprising departure from Grisham's bread and butter, legal thrillers. It deals with a hardscrabble east Arkansas farm family enduring hard economic times. A nice change of pace.


Virginia Readers' Choice (Nominee — High School — 2004)
Great Reads from Great Places (Arkansas — 2005)




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