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Book Review – “A Painted House” by John Grisham

If you have read John Grisham’s books before, then you are undoubtedly familiar with the usual characteristics of his books. There is usually a murder, a good amount of legal issues which follow, and then some type of unpredicted resolution. Being a lawyer himself, John Grisham is an expert at plotting a legal thriller and masterfully writing it down on paper.

Grisham’s book A Painted House has a completely different feel to it than many of his legal thrillers. While many of his books take place in big cities with rich, big city lawyers, this book takes place in rural Arkansas with an extremely poor family. A Painted House revolves around a young boy named Luke who lives with his parents and grandparents on a large farm. They grow cotton every season and sell it to the local cotton gin/mill in order to make money to live off of for the entire year.

In order to pick the acres and acres of cotton on their farm, Luke’s family must rely on hiring Mexicans and “hill people” who show up every season to make money. In the book, the Spruill family comes down from the hills to help Luke’s family, and they are led by a loud-mouth, mountain-of-a-man named Hank. He has a bad attitude and will fight at any given time. The Mexicans in this story are mild mannered and work hard. However, they also have a questionable character in their group named Cowboy who ends up possibly having relations with Hank’s teenage sister.

Luke has a bad feeling about Hank and Cowboy. Hank loves to fight and Cowboy carries a switchblade at all times. When the two eventually fight, Cowboy brutally kills Hank and throws him in a river, never to be seen again. No one knows what happened to Hank except for young Luke, who Cowboy threatens to kill if Luke ever tells of the murder.

Before his meeting with Cowboy, Hank finds several people to beat up. He fights three local boys at the same time when Luke’s family goes to town one Saturday, and ends up hurting them all critically if not killing them. He also fights a traveling “world’s strongest man” type of wrestler at the local fair, and nearly kills him as well. Hank makes a name for himself in all the wrong ways, and the town’s sheriff is itching for evidence to arrest him. However, Hank makes an effort to leave town before the law catches up with him.

Luke is portrayed as innocent and inexperienced in this novel. He has dreams of playing Major League Baseball one day for the Cardinals, and develops a crush on Hank’s younger sister who he sneaks off with several times. Luke is punished often while he takes naps when he is supposed to be picking cotton, or when he asks too many questions about topics he is too young to know about. He is also extremely proud about his brother who is off fighting at war, and will defend at any cost. Especially when he finds out that his brother has an illegitimate child with the town’s most disgraceful family.

This book is definitely a page-turner. While a story about a country family whose job is to pick cotton may sound slightly boring, it is actually very entertaining. Grisham has intertwined numerous smaller stories together flawlessly in a book that is different than anything he has ever written. A Painted House has a calm flow while reading it, but every time Cowboy and Hank step into the picture, you can feel the tension and your heart starts to race. This book is rated 4.5 out of 5.