Friday, September 4, 2015

Ford County: John Grisham Knows How To Write Short Stories.... and to Read 'Em As Well

Just finished reading Ford County, a collection of seven short stories by John Grisham. I always worry when an author reads his own work for an audiobook, but in this case there's nothing to worry about. He's as skilled a reader as writer. And the stories themselves are true page-turners, even when delivered in an audio format without pages.

I believe the first Grisham book I reviewed here was Playing for Pizza, which I found incredibly fun and entertaining. When I pulled Ford County off the library's audiobook shelf I didn't notice at first that it was a collection of short stories. From the very first lines I was in, one good sentence after another. The cool thing was that you just didn't know where this first crazy story was going.

The second story, like the first, was an equally compelling read. And Grisham's manner of telling made it come alive.

Because the stories all take place in the vicinity of Memphis, I had to check Google to find exactly where these people lived. As it turns out, Ford County is a fictional location. There is neither a Ford County in Tennessee or Arkansas or Mississippi. The nearest Ford County is in Kansas.

With characters vividly drawn, the situations become borderline absurd at times, yet fully engaging, never crossing over into the territory of disbelief.

Here's an excerpt from a review on by Pat Conroy:

I have loved the Grisham books for the same reason that I love the works of John Irving, Richard Russo, or Anne Rivers Siddons: I get hooked by an early page, and pure habit forces me to read until I am issued my walking papers and can return to my normal life. These writers are all wish-bringers who cast spells with the bright enchantment of their stories, and the power of story has retained its glamour and necessity for me. I’ve always liked it when Grisham took a sabbatical from his impressive fiction to romp in the field of sports or non-fiction.

John surprised me by entering the ring of danger that the short story represents for all writers. In the world of writing, the poets come first as they finger the language like worry beads and wonder where their next meal is coming from. The art of the short story writer is one of economy, concision, and the genius of trying to craft a whole world inside a mason jar. The modern world punishes the short story writer with inattention. The literary reviews keep the short story alive and finger-popping in America today, while the New Yorker tries to strangle the form with its bare hands. But a great short story is a source of joy, and the reading of Chekhov, de Maupassant, Flannery O’Connor and others offer pleasures unmatched by any other form. Since I’m incapable of writing the short story form, I wanted to see how Grisham fared, knowing the critics would sharpen their swords against him no matter how accomplished his stories might be.

I, too, am a longtime fan of the short story format. When I finished these it made me want to lock myself in a room a write. I have some experiences in Puerto Rico that might be fun to stir into a yarn. And a year south o' the border made an impression on me as well. Only time will tell.

You can read some of the other reviews here. And maybe even find yourself a copy of the book sometime.

Meantime, enjoy the long weekend. 

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