Ford County: Stories by John Grisham

I have never read any of John Grisham’s courtroom novels for which he is best known.  Odd though – I read his childhood memoir-esque book A Painted House several years back and liked it very much.  It’s Grisham’s occasional willingness to digress away from his standard formula that gets me to read his material.  And I like the short story format, so Ford County seemed a natural fit.

Ford County is several slices of small town Mississippi life, served up in a straightforward writing style that makes the reading click along.   The tales seem to take place in a nebulous latter-day setting – definitely post-segregation times.  A few affirm the vague present with mentions of cell phones and such, and one (Funny Boy) definitely takes place in 1989, but there’s a strong timelessness to all of these.  Grisham’s characters are lawyers, ex-cons and stalkers, low-lifes and high-falutin’s, white and black, desperate, and flawed.  Some are scum of the earth and dare you to call them that.  Vengeance is a strong theme in several of these stories; the methods in which it is exacted will at turns make you laugh or cringe. 

I was reading some reviewers of this book that have shunned John Grisham as a serious writer.  Maybe it’s because he’s a best-seller writer; as such, he could probably write utter drivel and it would sell.  But then on the flip side, Grisham was an early driving force behind the Oxford American, perhaps one of the best publications of modern Southern literature in recent times, so he is aware of and encourages writers from the region.  And, he (thankfully) knows how to flex his own literary muscle beyond the legal thriller.  This short collection showcases this literary muscle nicely.

Ford County isn’t quite Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, but it sure is easier to spell – and its stories, easier to digest.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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