Calico Joe had every kid's baseball fantasy - lightening start in his big league debut, the lifting of a sad-sack team (the Cubs) to contender status, broken records, the adulation of his teammates and fans - and then he didn't. John Grisham has written a very good and captivating story - more than a baseball story, though America's game is the canvass upon which this tragedy is painted.
Warren Tracey was also a big leaguer - a pitcher - with the kind of stats that define most careers in the bigs: occasionally good, usually mediocre and sometimes awful. He was destined to never be remembered except by trivia hounds once his career reached its uncelebrated end - until his involvement in a baseball drama that ensured his name would be written in baseball lore, though not in any manner he would have desired.
The story is told through the eyes of Warren's eleven year old boy Paul and alternates between 1973, the year Calico Joe and Warren were in the game together, and thirty years later when all three characters are still living lives vastly influenced by the events of that year. Warren not only contributed to one of the game's great "what ifs," but also through his wretched performance as a father and husband, ensured that his family would bear the influence of being of and with Warren Tracey.
I won't go into more because detail would give away the drama to this slim book. Although not nearly as long as most Grisham novels, this story is worth the read. It is perfect for a single-evening immersion, so if you are the type of reader who likes to occasionally fully immerse yourself for a couple of hours with a good story and see it through to the end, this is your book. It reminded me somewhat of Grisham's book "The Testament" in that it touches on some of the same themes. It also is in the vein of "Bleachers" and "Painted House."
A good, though short, story that is engaging with a satisfying conclusion.
This was really 4 1/2 stars for me. I love baseball and John Grisham's books, so I was not surprised at my response to this book.
Often, young athletes take plenty of sideline coaching from their Dads, and it is not always positive. Paul Tracey had it harder than most as his dad was Warren Tracey, a major league pitcher. When Warren was playing for the Mets, one play involving a rookie will ruin their carreers with one pitch; and not just any rookie, but one that was breaking records from his first at bat in the major leagues, Joe Castle aka Calico Joe.
that one play ruined both careers and this is the story of what happened when the spotlight dimmed. 30 years later, Paul Tracey attempts to re-unite the two players. Will both parties agree to meet? Will the truth be told after all these years? Will forgiveness be withheld or given? Will a father and son finally come to terms with their relationship?
To find out you will have to read this memorable story filled with wonderfully developed characters and love, hate, forgiveness, and redeemation.
It is not just a baseball story.
on June 5, 2013
I hadn't read a Grisham novel in a while and picked this one up on a whim. As others have noted, it is a very quick read - something I enjoyed about other Grisham books. It's also a good story. Is it an incredibly well-developed plot line with complex characters? As many reviewers have noted: no. But that doesn't make it a bad story or not worth reading.
Most people don't pick up John Grisham's books looking for a deep read that brings to light new insights into human character. They likely pick up his books looking instead for a captivating story that keeps them interested from page to page, chapter to chapter. For me, this book did just that.
The story was interesting and the way Grisham bounced between the 1973 season when Paul Tracey was an 11-year old kid and the present as he sought to bring some closure to what happened during that season was well done. I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that the characters, while rather simple, are one-dimensional. Some real emotions are dealt with: grief, bitterness, grudges, and forgiveness. In all, it's a story about family, relationships, growing up, and reconciliation. And it's a story that is worth the little bit of time it takes to read.
on April 28, 2012
"What if a pitcher intentionally hit a batter, a young star? What if both careers were ruined? And what if they met years later to try to come to grips with what happened in a split second?" These are some of the opening words of John Grisham to the reader explaining his rationale for writing this book.
I must say, I began this book very conflicted. First off, I am not a big baseball fan, AT ALL! The sport has always bored me and I have had no interest in it whatsoever. However, John Grisham is one of my absolute favorite authors. So here was the dilemma I was in: My favorite author writing on one of my least favorite topics. How would it go?
After finishing the book, I was not conflicted at all! I absolutely loved the book. While the book definitely centers around baseball as the skeleton for its storyline, it moves in the same rapid and gripping style that one would expect from a Grisham book. Your emotions are stirred to love Joe Castle and hate Warren Tracey, but just when you think you have it all figured out, you begin to have just a little bit of compassion for Tracey and are conflicted in your emotions.
I think that Grisham found the perfect harmony between length and in-depth details in this work. There is enough baseball jargon to engage the avid fan, but not enough to turn away someone like myself.
Go buy the book and enjoy this short, but excellently written piece of American fiction. Grisham has hit one out of the park in this one (pun intended).
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Doubleday Publishing for providing me with a review copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Calico Joe---John Grisham
One of America's best storytellers, Grisham departs from his usual tales of crime and trials to write a baseball story. This book tells the story of a small town Arkansas boy who bursts on the sports world in 1973 to become an instant sensation. Alas, his career is to be very short. But the reason for that is for the telling.
Grisham alternates between the 1973 story and the modern day and flows easily between the two. His baseball knowledge is extensive but,unlike what often happens in baseball, he does not allow the book to become mired in minutia and statistics. He gives just enough baseball information as needed to move the storyline. Baseball fans will certainly appreciate that he blends real players from 1973, from multiple teams, with fictitious ones. Non-baseball fans will enjoy the book as well because it has well developed characters and a moving story.
Grisham has another hit with this new book. It is good to see an extremely successful writer willing to use his talent to write a story that veers from his usual courtroom/crime formula.
on May 9, 2012
John Grisham can be a great writer. He's written chapters where there is excitement around someone using a copier. Calico Joe though is a very weak story. The only positive aspect was its' length...it's very short. Frankly, this should have been a short story. This just seemed like a half-hearted effort.
As for the actual story...The character development is weak...and the ending is rather predictable yet unsatisfying. Perhaps Mr. Grisham should leave the baseball books to others and stick to writing thrillers.
on April 9, 2013
"Calico Joe" is a breezy little novel coming just under 200 pages , it is the first-person account of a fictionalized beaning of a Chicago Cubs prodigy by the name of Joe Castle, from Calico Rock , Ark. The story is narrated by Paul Tracey, son of Warren, the head-hunting power pitcher for the New York Mets who aimed a fast ball at the head Joe Calico and took him out of the game and ended his career.
In the summer of 1973 Joe Castle was the boy wonder and the greatest rookie anyone had ever seen and quickly became the idol of every baseball fan in America, including Paul Tracey. One day when Warren Tracey finally faced Calico Joe. Paul was in the stands, rooting for both his idol and his dad. Then the fatal pitch came and their life changed for ever.
In vintage Grisham fashion the story picks up pace as the story unfolds and jumps ahead almost four decades. Joe Castle is barely a functional groundskeeper at a school back in Calico and Warren Tracey is dying of cancer at home in Florida. Paul who had abandoned baseball a long time ago decided to track down Castle for reconciliation between him and his dad.
This novel is worthy of our valuable time whether you are a baseball fan or not. It is a total contrast to Mr. Grisham typical novels that are full of twists and turns and tension, "Calico Joe" is simply a sweet and simple story with a moral and of a relationship between a father and son. The beginning of the book is a detailed account on how the game is played with all the rules and jargon. This is rather a sad plot with very moving elements of forgiveness and redemption and the main drive that kept me turning the pages. The narrative and setting are solid and shifts back and forth between 1973 and 2003, keeping track of the changing periods was challenging at times. Although the data is not accurate according to the author's notes the recreation is nevertheless fun and does capture enough of the excitement for anyone, fan or not to enjoy.
I was kind of split on this book before I started reading it. I've always enjoyed Grisham's legal thrillers more than his other novels, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought I might like the baseball piece more than the family piece, but I found the opposite to be true.
Without recounting the plot, which has been done nicely by many others already, I'll say that the brevity of the novel did hamper slightly the development of its characters. Paul Tracey, the lead, is well-developed, but his father, as well as his baseball idol Joe Castle, don't seem to have much in the way of complexity. Maybe that's what Grisham was going for, but I thought it detracted slightly from the book since they were both critical components. At the same time brevity may have negatively impacted character development, I believe in some ways it also helped by keeping the story moving briskly and never becoming bogged down in unnecessary detail.
As a huge baseball fan, I did have some issues with Joe and his performance. I understand how Grisham was trying to present his meteoric rise, but it went well beyond the believable pretty quickly. I think he could have presented Castle's rise without Little League-type hitting numbers, but that's really a minor complaint. I did like the manner in which these fictional characters were mixed in with actual players of the era (Mays, Seaver, Oates, etc.).
Overall, I'd say that this one got better as it went along and became less about baseball and more about the father/son relationship. Baseball is a central part of the driving action in the novel, but I felt like its role was slightly confused. Does Paul love the game, or hate it for what it did to his family? Again, maybe I'm just hung up on this because I'm a fan of the game. Either way, this is still what I would consider Grisham's best non-thriller book to date and I'd recommend it.
This book will never be confused with literature, but it is an easy, quick, and sappy baseball story that will be a fun read for baseball fans. Grisham has a tendency to find a sport and then craft a story around something that gives him an excuse to write a short novella. I've read Bleachers, and Playing for Pizza. While Bleachers had more of a story line and it had a more serious message, Calico Joe is sort of caught between a couple of concepts and just doesn't get there entirely.
There is an attempt to take on the old "bean ball" mentality of early vintage baseball and Grisham gets a little preachy on that topic. The brushback pitch was a standard in the old days when a hitter got a little too much to handle. Grisham brings this topic to the forefront as a collision of a new career hitter and the end of an "old line" career pitcher comes down the pages careening out of control. The reader sees it coming from the opening pages and Grisham does little to hide what's coming. It is like using the Hitchcock movie method, but there is never attempting to add an element of surprise. I expected something - anything, but the story was pretty vanilla.
Trying to fit a broken home life, a mistreated kid, an angry and ill tempered aging pitcher with a character that fits a little better in the movie, The Natural, all in less than 200 very lightly written pages, Grisham has stretched any level of character credibility.
The reason that I did enjoy reading it has more to do with loving a baseball story than reading a good baseball story. I do think that it is enjoyable, but there are plenty of flaws that make it just an average 3 star rating.
on January 24, 2014
This is a short story that is called a book. I like the story but I am tired of big name authors writing shorter and shorter books and charging a fortune. I am an avid reader and have always been since childhood and I am tired of authors cashing in on their celebrity. They grew popular because of good well written, properly long novels. If Grisham had started with books like this he would have no movies or the popularity he now has. He has sold out. I hope he enjoys our money but he didn't earn it with this one he has too much ability to be writing these little stories. How wide should the margins be and how big the space between lines and how large did you have to make the print. I hate the idea of books going digital and bookstores disappearing but I don't ever want to hear a complaint about how this evolved as books like this make me feel that authors deserve it. At least John Grisham does and it seems to happen to all the authors after they become popular. They write shorter and shorter books and try to charge more. Live with what you have created. You now make less money on digital books.