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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Ford County: Stories

A little bit of a different John Grisham for you today. I bring you Ford County, Grisham's book of short stories that brings us back to the location of his first book, A Time to Kill, which I loved.

I am going to list out the stories here because that's what I feel like doing today.

"Blood Drive" - A young man is in the hospital after a work accident, and three friends drive up to Memphis to donate blood, only to run into a series of mishaps that waylay them at every turn.

"Fetching Raymond" - A mom and her two older sons head off to Parchman to see her youngest son on death row.

"Fish Files" - What would you do if one phone call could be the key to leave your boring, listless life behind and start over?

"Casino" - Be careful what you wish for, and watch the greed, because before you know it, an enemy you never even knew you had might take it all away.

"Michael's Room" - A man's past work deeds come back to haunt him one night in a grocery store.

"Quiet Haven" - You never quite know what that man is up to, beginning work at him umpteenth nursing home and seeking out odd friendships with the residents. He has some tricks up his sleeve, and they may just break the bank.

"Funny Boy" - A not-quite-prodigal son comes home to die, having left at young age. He was always "funny," which in small town 90's parlance means gay, and he is now dying of that disease. A surprising friendship sustains him until the end.

I was quite pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these stories. One of the blurbs on the back calls it Grisham's best writing, and while I can't quite get myself to fully agree with that statement, I do think that it ranks up there. Nothing, in my mind, beats vintage Grisham in terms of the legal thriller, but this is quite a lovely tome that pitches the residents of Ford county in a variety of lights. The upright citizens are marked by the different characters that come through their lives, and the stories lie in those characters and not the upright citizens. After all, going about your business is no fun to read. Each of these stories has its merits and was worth reading. While I mentioned in an earlier short story collection (Curtis Sittenfeld's You Think It, I'll Say It) how much I loved that she let her stories dangle at the end, Grisham does the complete opposite and it works so well for these stories. He draws them to a close with a kind of ending that feels complete yet leaves you wanting more. These characters are so interesting and their stories are fascinating.

If I had to pick a favorite, I think "Funny Boy" would be it. There was something so human and raw in the story of Adrian coming home to die, more to avoid his friends watching him suffer than to be with his family. In fact, his family is so afraid of AIDS, which was still misunderstood in the late 1980's and 90's, that they ship him off to their other property "on the other side of the tracks." In the small town South, that means the area where people of color live. While in 2018 it feels offensive, there was a beauty in his friendship with Emporia, the woman renting the family home, and how she cared for him in his final days. That relationship is such a beautiful bloom on an island of gross ignorance, and the love she builds for him made my eyes water a little.

There were also laughs in this book, some because they were "haha" funny and some because there was humor in the dark moments. "Blood Drive," for example, should not have been funny at all, but those moments of mishap occurring with these not-so-smart guys on their way to help someone that they don't even know for reasons that make no sense to the observer were a riot. Reading this book with a distance of 25 years (give or take) provided a humor that might not have been the case in the days without the internet and our exposure to different walks of life. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and I'm glad I picked it up. 

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