21 February 2010

Ford County Stories - John Grisham

A collection of 7 stories that form the collage depicting the setting, the characters, the lives, the beliefs and daily adventures of the people of Ford County. A blurb on the back of the book says “Take a journey into Ford County, the fictional setting of John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill.” Fictional? The place is alive and thrumming with life.

The setting of most stories is Clanton, a small town in Ford County, which is part of the ‘south’. If you have read ‘Gone with the wind’ or ‘Roots’ and recall the ethos of the land, Ford County is what it has become in the 20th Century. Small, conservative towns with old families and new, away from the bustle of the glitzy cities, laid back, populated by the whites and the blacks who lead their separate yet intertwined lives, the local watering holes, the gossips, the waitresses, the bad boys, the mammas, the churches, the marriages and divorces and the kids, the crooks and of course, the lawyers.

Each story adds new threads to the tapestry, and by the time you are done you intuitively know the place, its people and their natures. Each story is rich in detail with a pace that is just right – you have time to take in the scenery yet you are eager to know where you are going. And before you reach your destination, you can be sure of a small twist. The beauty is that the twist in the tale is just a bonus. You hardly need that ‘hook’ to read these sumptuous tales – at 50 odd pages per story, it is just the right size between a ‘short’ story and a novel. I have trouble picking out a favourite from these seven. A total treat.

In ‘Blood Drive’ three young men Agnor, Calvin and Roger set out from Box Hill in Ford County, to the neighbouring big bad city of Memphis, with the express purpose of donating ‘blood’ to one of their own - young Bailey who has had an accident. Well, there is the drive, which is an odyssey in itself, running more on beer than gas, with a chase by a police car, gun shots, a couple of visits to a strip club, more alcohol, fisticuffs, arson, cracked skulls and some edge-of-the-seat escape-from-trouble sequences. And of course, there is blood - lots of it - but very little of it is ‘donated’ to save Bailey. Seems like these small town boys don’t even know they are living life on the edge!

‘Fetching Raymond’ also involves a long drive – this time the three travelers are Raymond Graney’s 2 older brothers and his 72 year old mother. They undertake an uneventful journey, the entire family puffing away on cigarettes and talking about Raymond, who is in the infamous Parchman prison and has had several unfulfilled illustrious careers – as a poet, a writer and a musician among others – all during his long stint in prison! His mother is his lone and long suffering audience, who remains clueless about the intent and content of her last born’s literary creations, which include his letters to his mother. These provide for some outrageously humorous interludes for the reader, as the three continue on their drive. They do end up meeting Raymond and ‘fetch’ him home to rest, but after an event that knocks your breath out.

‘Fish Files’, ‘Casino’, ‘Michael’s Room’ and ‘Quiet Haven’ are about crooks of various kinds.

‘Fish Files’ is a story about the lawyer who grabs an opportunity when it presents itself, rehauls his life, trades all that is for what could be – gambling on the legality of many of his actions. Does he pull it off?

‘Casino’ is about a career crook, the wealthy and extremely glitzy Bobby Carl Leach who runs, among many things, a rapidly growing casino. Or is it about the ‘uninspiring’ insurance company employee Sidney who avenges his broken heart and marriage, transforms into this whiz at playing the odds that he single handedly ‘breaks’ the casino and bankrupts it?

‘Michael’s Room’ is again about a lawyer Wade, who comes face-to-face with his own death when he is abducted and confronted by a family that has been grievously wronged – all because Wade is such a good lawyer that he has long forgotten the difference between law and justice. Michael’s room helps him see this difference, his follies and his imminent punishment.

You enter ‘Quiet Haven’, a retirement home, along with Gilbert, who applies for a job as a night-time attendant, taking up the job for a paltry pay. He can’t stand most of his colleagues, but has always liked the inmates – or does he really?

The last story is about a ‘Funny Boy’ – a young white homosexual man who contracts AIDS and has come back home to die, but his own family won’t have him back. He finds compassion and care ‘on the other side of the tracks’, with an old black spinster who ends up understanding herself better, as she sticks up for him right till the end.

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