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Book Review: A Painted House

RATING: StarStar


Title: A Painted House

Author: John Grisham

Genre: Suspense, Historical Fiction

Language: English



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 town forever….

“The hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day. It was a Wednesday, early in September 1952. The Cardinals were five games behind the Dodgers with three weeks to go, and the season looked hopeless. The cotton, however, was waist-high to my father, over my head, and he and my grandfather could be heard before supper whispering words that were seldom heard. It could be a ‘good crop.’”

John Grisham is known for his legal thrillers and their film adaptations. The way he began his novel, A Painted House, it somehow told us it’s not one of his typical works. The novel is a historical fiction where there is no single lawyer involved but a lone policeman, set in rural Arkansas in 1952.

The novel is narrated in first person by Luke Chandler, a seven year old boy who sounded more of a teenage boy to me. The Chandler family are cotton farmers, and the novel chronicled their life from late summer to early fall, when they harvest their crop with the help of Mexicans and hill people. Luke is forced to grow up quickly, taking in responsibilities like waking up at the crack of dawn, picking cotton all day until his hands bled, and going to bed at almost midnight. This happens six days a week, Saturdays as exception since they only tend to the farm for half a day. We’ve experienced their simple joys like listening to a baseball broadcast while resting at night after supper, their despair with difficult harvest, their wariness of people from other regions, the town gossip and the ever present preachers. The farmers have to be tough, or they won’t survive.

Luke will hear things he shouldn’t hear and see things he shouldn’t see. These experiences will change him, as he battles between right and wrong. He realized that their farm where he grew up is not even safe, and that life is not as easy as he wants it to be.

Grisham introduced several characters that were engaging enough, although the plot did seem to drag a little bit. Throughout the book, I was pretty much on an everlasting search for the plot since the introduction at the back made it sound like it’s an interesting one.

After about six chapters, after Luke kept secrets after secrets, I thought that a concrete story will finally come around. But the author offered no resolution at all.  I did finish it, because Grisham did a good job of making me really curious how it will all turn out. The ending made me feel that there’s a sequel to it, because there were so many questions that were left unanswered, like what happened to all the characters that the author introduced to the readers.

Grisham’s narration is easy to read and very descriptive. This not his typical work. If you’ve never read Grisham until this book – PLEASE don’t judge him by it.