Because John Grisham has always produced novels as plentifully as peanuts, because The Firm sold a bazillion copies, or maybe because he's handsome, well-behaved and decorous, "real" writers (whoever they may be) have traditionally held him in low esteem. "Real" writers tend to be cranky where other people's success is concerned. It must be true, mustn't it, that Grisham can't write his way out of a paper bag?
Ford County, his first collection of short stories, provides one more reason to ignore those naysayers. Set in a small Mississippi town not unlike the one in which Grisham started practicing law, these seven stories are terrifically charming, if only for this one thing: They start out at a beginning and march straight through to an end. They lack plot twists, literary surprises, authorial showing off. They're written about a world that is foreign to most of us: the fictional Southern town of Clanton, population 10,000.
I dare you to raise your head from Blood Drive, in which a man is injured in a construction accident. Three young guys who barely know him pile into a truck with the poorly formed idea of donating blood. After too many beer stops and the dawning realization that they don't even know what Memphis hospital he was taken to, their misfortunes pile up.
There's a lordly grandeur about refusing to copy edit or revise here, which turns out to be quite winning. Words are repeated carelessly all over the place; adverbs abound. My favorite sentence, attributed to the crook from Quiet Haven as he visits the courthouse, runs like this: "A lonely Confederate soldier in bronze stands atop a granite statue, gazing north, looking for the enemy." Did some copy editor notice this, consider pointing it out to Grisham and then reconsider? Was Grisham just amusing himself, conjuring up Cirque du Soleil on that quiet Southern lawn? In any event, those acrobatic sculptures cast a charmingly cozy light on the sober stories, stories that — no matter what your literary scruples — you may not be able to stop reading.