Once upon a time I was a big fan of John Grisham. As a child I had pondered a legal career, so Grisham’s legal thrillers were books I found fascinating. I loved The Firm and A Time to Kill, and The Pelican Brief wasn’t bad. But then they started making the books into movies, and somewhere along the line he became one of those assembly line authors that churn out thinly plotted books like welfare mothers produce offspring. The law of diminishing returns kicked in. I mean really…how many angles of the legal process can one scrutinize?? The Client…The Chamber…The Runaway Jury…The Partner…The Bretheren…zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. At some point I half expected novels called The Bailiff and The Stenographer. At any rate, I hadn’t picked up a John Grisham product for well over a decade until recently, when I decided to give Calico Joe a whirl.
In the ensuing years after I stopped paying attention Grisham expanded his horizons and has actually written a handful of novels that have nothing to do with the law. I stumbled across a description of this book and decided that A) it involved baseball, and B) it was Grisham, and so I thought it might be a decent read. I was right…and wrong.
Calico Joe is narrated by a 40-something man named Paul Tracey, the son of a retired New York Mets pitcher. As a child Paul, naturally, loved baseball. However, his father Warren, a middle-of-the-road journeyman pitcher, eventually sours his son on the game. Warren is an abusive alcoholic who is mean to his son and cheats on his wife. In the summer of 1973, when Paul is 11 years old, the baseball world is all abuzz over a young rookie outfield for the Chicago Cubs name Joe Castle. Castle puts up amazing, historic, record breaking numbers right from his very first game, hammering three home runs in his first three at-bats and getting hits in his first 16 plate appearances. Unfortunately just a few dozen games into his career Joe Castle faces Warren Tracey, who intentionally beans Castle, fracturing his skull and ending his brilliant career far too soon.
Three decades later Paul is long since estranged from his abusive father, and Joe is a mentally impaired recluse living in his small Arkansas hometown under the protective eyes of family and friends. Warren is dying of cancer, and Paul’s biggest wish is for his father to apologize to the man whose life he forever altered with just one pitch. Warren is reluctant at first but eventually agrees to meet with Joe. Joe couldn’t possibly be more gracious…he even comes to Warren’s funeral when he dies. And there you have it.
Is Calico Joe a bad novel?? No. Is it a good novel?? Not really. It’s an easy breezy read, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing. But comparing this book to Grisham’s earliest offerings from two decades ago is like comparing hot dogs to filet mignon. There just seems to be a missing element. Some authors, like some actors, build a good reputation to the point that just their name becomes a selling point, regardless of the fact that the product their name is appearing on is substandard. I guess there are enough consumers out there that blindly accept this mediocrity and continue to increase the bank accounts of the famous people they are enabling, but this humble Potentate of Profundity isn’t willing to participate in the sham. Come on John Grisham…you can do better.
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- CALICO JOE – John Grisham (2012) (baldreformer.wordpress.com)
- ‘Calico Joe’: A Would-Be Legend Rediscovered (npr.org)
- Calico Joe (nochargebookbunch.com)