Top critical review
4 people found this helpful
I can understand the appeal of this novel, even though it didn't float my boat
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.