Ford County: Stories
By John Grisham
Random House Large Print (2009), 464 pages
Genre: Fiction - Short Stories
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - June 22, 2010
During the past twenty years, best-selling novelist John Grisham has written some twenty-two novels, mostly crime novels involving lawyers and people trying to illegally acquire money. His tales are usually gripping, although some writers complain that Grisham seems to lack the ability to end his stories in a reasonable satisfying manner.
This volume is a collection of seven Grisham short stories focusing on characters in a town with a 10,000 population in Ford County, Mississippi. The stories are very well written and dramatic, and are somewhat humorous character studies. The first story, Blood Drive, seems to reflect the Grisham phenomenon. It is a gripping humorous tale, but its ending may seem abrupt and arguably unconnected with what preceded it. The story is about three young men, one of whom is a drunk, all of whom are dumb, who decide to drive to Memphis to donate blood for a man they hardly know. The story unrolls with episode after episode of foolish decisions on their part, resulting in near death experiences and great harm to them. The drunk disappears and what happens to him raises the questions: Could there have been a better ending? Does the Grisham ending flow from what we know of the drunk's character, since we are told that he was a person who usually stayed at home and passively drank?
This problem of very interesting, even gripping stories with abrupt endings, unrelated to what precedes it, appears in other tales. For example, Fish Files concerns a poor, lazy, near bankrupt lawyer who is miraculously able to settle a case for half a million dollars. He goes off half cocked. He gets drunk, fires his secretary, seeks a divorce, lies to his clients and cheats them, and commits more than a half dozen crimes so that he can keep the bulk of the settlement funds. The ending may not satisfy some readers because, without revealing it, the story just seems to slide away.
Similarly, in Michael's Room a lawyer is made to face a distraught family that he caused to lose close to a million dollars. He didn't do so because what he did was just, but only because he was certain he could win. The depiction of the family is deftly and emotionally drawn, the drama of the encounter is just right, but the ending may leave the reader feeling that it is clever, but not satisfactory.
The book's last story Funny Boy, in contrast, is perfectly told and has just the right kind of tearful ending. It is a pathetic story of a white man, who is dying with aids, who returns home, who is rejected because of his illness and his homosexuality, and who is sent by his relatives to the black section of town to an old woman who agrees to care for him in exchange for the man's family giving her the home she rents from them, free. The man and old woman develop a warm relationship which Grisham describes with skillful feeling, even as he describes the cold uncaring reactions of the white and black citizens of the town and that of the crass black preacher.
In short, the ending issue aside, for at worst this is a small distraction, the stories in this book are good, and readers will enjoy them, even though they are unlike his more successful crime lawyer dramas. Grisham has shown that he can write other kinds of tales.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes daily samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.