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A Painted House
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on March 26, 2012
I know that a lot of people really like this novel. I think the biggest fans are those who identify with its nostalgic qualities. I assume much of this story is semi-autobiographical and I think people of a certain generation who remember growing up on the farm, listening to ball games on the radio and going to the small town fair are likely to relate to it. My reaction was less enthusiastic, but that may be because I'm a child of the Canadian suburbs growing up mostly in the 70s.

I can understand why some people are fond of this novel even if it didn't appeal to me in the same way. Grisham is a gifted story teller who has a knack for making even the dullest story readable. (If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it isn't meant to be. I think Grisham has a talent that few writers possess) While I have some issues with the plot and found some of the characters stereo typical in nature, I have to admit I mostly enjoyed reading A Painted House (enough to give it three stars anyway).

The plot however tries to be all things to all people and ends up never quite succeeding on most levels. As a nostalgic memoir it has its charms but they wear thin quickly and the mundaneness of the story begins to drag the novel down. Grisham throws a few killings into the novel and a couple of big secrets to add tension but the cumulative effect of these plot developments felt contrived and 'over the top'. Many of these plot developments are never resolved. I'm a fan of ambiguous endings but ambiguous endings work best when they give the reader pause and something to think about. It felt like some of the events in the novel were included to pacify Grisham fans accustomed to suspense and left dangling unresolved in the end as if they'd served their purpose and could be forgotten.

It occurs to me that Grisham had lofty goals with this novel and wanted to pen a novel of literary significance like To Kill a Mocking Bird. The problem here is that I never got a sense that Grisham had anything to say other than that he was nostalgic about growing up in rural Arkansas in the 1950s and that he felt he needed to keep readers from losing interest by throwing in an illegitimate baby, a couple of murders, and a flood. There is never a sense that Grisham has much to say about the nature of the world or the human experience.

As a nostalgic memoir I never connected with it; as a suspense novel it sputters in the end leaving much of the story unresolved; and as a literary achievement it falls flat because it doesn't have anything insightful to say.

But maybe I'm being too hard on it. While I couldn't relate to the homespun charm of the novel, I thought some of the characters were stereo types and the ending was far too sentimental for my tastes, it never occurred to me to stop reading. Grisham kept me reasonably entertained and for that he deserves a solid three stars, despite my general lack of enthusiasm for the novel.
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on May 15, 2013
I received A Painted House by John Grisham last week. I have already read the book, and the content of the book was excellent. T
The condition of the book I received was unacceptable. The book arrived with a dust cover. When I unwrapped it, a large portion (1/3) of the back cover and a smaller portion of the front cover was missing. I first thought it had been eaten by rodents; however, after closer inspection I decided it had become old and brittle and had broken off.
I will not order another book from Quality Bargain Mall. It you wish to replace the original with a book in very good condition as advertised, I will accept it.

Linden J. Parrish, Ed.D.
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on October 10, 2014
I am biased against 1st person point-of-view (thanks to the New Adult genre). But this book reminds me how great 1st person can be. And I can’t imagine this story done any other way. This is 1st person Luke. He is seven-years-old. He is always sneaking around and listening to things and seeing things he’s not supposed to. It was exciting. And then he’s got all these secrets. He doesn’t want to keep secrets but he has to. I enjoyed Luke’s thoughts and dialogue. His family is dirt poor but he’s happy. Luke finds joy in daydreams about baseball and getting a St. Louis Cardinals jacket. Luke feels lucky when he compares his life to sharecroppers who have no screens, no fan, and no electricity to listen to the baseball games on the radio. Their kids have no shoes.

I consider John Grisham the king of character development, and this book is full of it. Here’s an example: A poor family buys groceries on credit. Little boy signs the account book at the store for something he is buying. The store lady looks at it and says “Coming along.” She meant his handwriting was improving. I thought she was going to say something negative.

I smiled and enjoyed so many things during this book. At the end I cried, but it wasn’t a depressing cry. It was more about good things people do for others - or do for the principle of the thing. There was a very moving idea at the end – that no matter how dire your circumstances, someone else is worse off and would love to be in your shoes. I was also happy about Luke and his parents starting something new that was going to be good.

Some readers complained that some of the story lines were not finished at the end. I was ok with that. Sure I would have loved to keep going or have a sequel. But that was because the stories were good and I didn’t want to stop.

Luke’s family owns a cotton farm. The story begins in September as they hire a group of Mexicans and a family from the hills to help pick cotton. The Mexicans stay in the barn. The family camps in the yard. The story takes place over the next two months as these characters interact and pick cotton. They play baseball. Some local bullies fight. A carnival comes to town. There’s a mystery about a pregnant teen girl.

David Lansbury’s young boy voice and emotional interpretations were fabulous.

Narrative mode: 1st person Luke. Unabridged audiobook length: 12 hrs and 7 mins. Swearing language: mild but rarely used. No sexual language or sex scenes. Setting: 1952 Arkansas. Book copyright: 2000 & 2001. Genre: fiction.
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on July 13, 2014
The first non-legal novel for John Grisham, this story revolves around a boy named Luke Chandler, a young boy who seeks to one day leave his family's cotton farm behind him and play major league baseball. While it's a fine departure for the author of legal thrillers such as A Time to Kill: A Novel and The Chamber, it's sometimes too quiet for me.
While characters do die in this story, these deaths are never really followed up on because of a lack of information for the surviving characters. Instead, this story is largely just about cotton picking and the seasonal workers that the Chandler family finds to help out with the job. The biggest mystery for them is who is painting their farmhouse white.
While the painting is a nice story ark and definitely good symbolism as painted houses in the town are a sign of some financial prosperity, it's all just sometimes dull. The few moments of real action are quick and rarely touched on again long afterwards. The ordinary events in young Luke Chandler's day are sometimes just too ordinary. Also, what was with that whole scene with the girl at the river? I'm more disturbed than anything else.
But despite all it's faults and the consequent loss of one star in the ratings, it's still a decent book and die-heart Grisham fans like myself shouldn't go without. The audio book is abridged, but I can't imagine all the excitement is only found in the full version. Go find out for yourself though. Enjoy.
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HALL OF FAMEon July 12, 2001
It's Arkansas in 1952. The Chandler family is trying to scratch out a living on 80 rented acres where they grow cotton. Grandfather, father, and son all love baseball. Grandmother and mother provide great food and lots of love. During the harvest, they need to attract migrant workers from the Ozarks and Mexico. The story opens just before the first workers are hired and continues through to the end of the harvest. In the course of the picking, Luke Chandler learns a lot about life, love, morality, and the economic realities of farming.
Many people will compare this book to To Kill a Mockingbird and Tom Sawyer. Mr. Grisham consciously modeled the book along the lines of both works, because he makes many allusions to them. Fans of Mr. Grisham's lawyer books will be disappointed to find out that there are no lawyers in this one.
This book has many fine qualities. The sense of place is strong. You will be emotionally affected by the characters. The book raises many fascinating questions about morality and spirituality.
The book also has some big weaknesses. The narrator is a seven year-old, Luke Chandler. No seven year-old has ever existed who is like this Luke, however. In many places he has the vocabulary of a college graduate . . . which greatly jars the authenticity of his voice. He also is able to gather information better than James Bond. Mr. Grisham could easily have remedied both problems, but did not choose to do so. As a result, he turned a serious novel into a sort of self-satire with a large wink to the reader that this is fiction, after all.
The book has a lot of humor in it, but the humor is often coming from the sophisticated views of the author in ways that are not subtle enough. For example, there is an extremely obvious play on the fence painting scene from Tom Sawyer. Not satisfied with that, Mr. Grisham feels compelled to have Luke's mother make the allusion directly. In considering a moral dilemma about lying, Luke puts Hitler, Judas, and General Grant in together hell based on what he has been told.
I came away hoping that Mr. Grisham would do more books like this one, but scale back his dramatics, the capabilities of his characters, and his own voice. Fiction has to seem like it could have occurred before we can comfortably enter into it. A Painted House allows you to do that sometimes (like during Saturday afternoon visits to town to do little boy activities) but not others (like during the events surrounding the scene with Hank and Cowboy on the bridge).
After you have finished this book, I suggest that you think back to when you were seven. What were your biggest hopes, concerns, and dilemmas? What have you learned since then that has improved on those perspectives? What have you forgotten that you should refocus on?
Select a worthy goal before you seek it out!
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on December 1, 2012
A Painted House, by John Grisham, is a beautiful book. The story is told from the perspective of seven year old Luke Chandler, a young lad who lives to please his family, love his God, be a good Baptist, but most importantly, grow up to play for the St Louis Cardinals.

Life on an American farm in the 1950s is hard enough but when you grow cotton for a living on poor land that will flood every time the nearby river breaks its banks then you soon learn to expect the worst from the weather, from fate or providence or whatever forces of nature you believe in. This book however is not entirely about farming. It is about families and faith and justice and coming of age, and about love and hate and even touches on racism and ignorance. It makes us think about vendettas and protecting the people you love and when times get tough we witness the glory of forgiveness as enemy reaches out to enemy to become life long friends.

Special mention must be made of the ending. It was one of the most moving, emotional and hard to read, and yet perfect finishes to a book i have ever read. A family finds itself at a dead end and yet by making a tough choice they will live through some more tough times but come out on top later on.

John Grisham, you have written a classic , a masterpiece, in fact A PAINTED HOUSE is a book for the ages. I thank you for writing this book and everyone who is lucky enough to come across it will thank you, as well.

Greggles (LR)
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on July 1, 2005
John Grisham's very popular novel "A Painted House," purports to be an idyll of American boyhood, inspired by Grisham's own childhood in rural Arkansas in the early 1950s. A subliminal aim of this novel, though, seems to be to instruct readers in the "right way" and the "wrong way" to physically abuse a child.

In the scene aimed at showing Grisham's idea of the right way, the father of seven-year-old Luke Chandler takes the little boy to the tool-shed because Luke has played a joke on the wife of Luke's cousin. Although the young, city-bred woman had been uppity and critical of the Chandler family, and no one had liked her, Luke's father says Luke must be punished because he has done a "mean thing" to "a guest on our farm."

The elder Mr. Chandler keeps a wooden hickory stick, "one that he'd cut himself and polished to a shine," on the door of the tool shed. Luke seems to feel honored in having such a stick reserved just for him, but the reader is left to wonder at the sadism of a parent who would cold-bloodedly polish the instrument with which he intended to abuse his child. Seemingly inviting the reader to share in Luke's admiration of his father for being a just and upright abuser, Luke explains that his father never beat him when he was angry and that the crime and punishment were always discussed beforehand.

Knowing the routine, Luke bends over and grabs his ankles, while his father hits him on the rear three times with the hickory stick. "It stung like hell, but his heart wasn't in it. I'd received far worse," the little boy says, and the reader wonders at what age these beatings began.

In a parallel scene, which seems intended to show the wrong way to discipline a child, Mrs. Latcher, a neighbor woman, takes a stick to her three sons who have started a fight with Luke. (Is the first thing wrong here that the mother, not the father, is administering the discipline?) After she breaks up the fight, she yells "Cut me a switch!" (This bad mother has no polished hickory stick in reserve for just such occasions.) Right then and there, she orders her oldest son, Percy, to bend over. "I'll teach you some manners," she says. "Beatin' up that little boy, a visitor to our place." (Like Luke, Percy has sinned against the laws of hospitality.)

When Percy refuses to bend over, Mrs. Latcher hits him in the head with the stick; when he screams, she whacks him across the ear. Subdued, the boy bends over and grabs his ankles. "You let go and I'll beat you for a week," Mrs. Latcher threatens.

Both Luke and his mother are stunned by Mrs. Latcher's anger. The mother administers "ten, twenty, thirty" licks; "the beating went on and on, far past the point of punishment." When her arm was tired, she shoves Percy to the ground and then grabs the next son by the hair, ordering him to bend over. As Luke and his mother drive off, two sons are lying in the dirt, and Mrs. Latcher is "battering the youngest one."

The difference between the physical punishment administered by Mr. Chandler and that administered by Mrs. Latcher is one of degree, not one of kind. There is no right way to physically abuse a child.
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on January 11, 2017
I've always thought of John Grisham as a fine storyteller, but not as fine a writer as Scott Turow. Well, this is a fine, well-written slice of life novel. The setting and era are evocative and educational, and the characters, as seen through the eyes of a particularly observant and wise 7-year old, are totally engaging. The story is compelling, especially as it informs the struggles of rural Southerners as they move literally and figuratively into the late 20th century. Highly recommended.
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on June 2, 2001
Luke is a wonderfully mischevious seven year old boy growing up in rural Arkansas during the time of the Korean War. He lives with his mother and father and his father's parents in a small unpainted house on a farm. They are cotton farmers. When cotton picking time arrives, Luke's quota for the day is 50 pounds. This story is told through Luke's experiences of watching the adults worry about the weather, the price of cotton, hiring Mexicans and Hill People to help pick cotton and through his part in a struggling proud family who all live, work, and worry together.
Any reader who has ever known a seven year old boy will love Luke as he narrates the hiring of the Mexicans and watches the hill people move in and camp in his front yard right over home plate. Luke's ambition is to grow up and become a baseball player for the Cardinals in St. Louis. As you read through the days of cotton picking and some difficult adult situations that Luke sees happen, you hope that all his dreams will come true and he will be able to get away from the hardships he has witnessed.
Grisham does not need a courtroom and a chase scene to write a memorable book with characters that will come to mind again and again. I have enjoyed his legal thrillers, but A Painted House offers up a beautiful sensitivity that proves he can write just as well when he reaches out to a new format.
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on September 27, 2017
I have read other Grisham books. This one is different from his other stories. But I think this the best. I like all of his books, but A Painted House, the best.
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