Ford County by John Grisham

 This is John Grisham’s collection of short stories, all of which are set in America’s Deep South, in the fictional Ford County.

There are seven stories in the collection, and they are by turns, touching, funny and insightful. 

The book starts off with ‘Blood Drive’ – an amusing tale about three hapless men on a mercy dash to Memphis.  Unfortunately there are a number of distractions along the way!  This story was very entertaining and made me laugh on a number of occasions.

The second story is ‘Fetching Raymond’, about two brothers who take their mother to see her third son in prison.  Raymond is intelligent and manipulative, but whether his guile will help him now, remains to be seen.  This was one of my favourite stories in the collection; Raymond made for an irritating, exasperating but ultimately pathetic character.

‘Fish Files’ tells the tale of a small town lawyer who suddenly sees a chance to make big money and escape his humdrum life.  An interesting tale which ended up very differently to how I had expected.

The fourth story is ‘Casino’ and is about a man who learns the intricacies of gambling in order to ease his broken heart and gain revenge.  This was the one story in the whole collection which didn’t really work for me.  I did feel that a knowledge of casinos and how certain card games were played would have helped.

‘Michael’s Room’ describes the ordeal of a lawyer who is forcedby gunpoint to see the results of his legal wrangling in a case years earlier, where he was able to deny a family with a disable son, the compensation which they so obviously deserved.  It was a thought provoking story, with an abrupt end – I would actually have liked to see how the tale progressed beyond the short story.

‘Quiet Haven’ is about a conman working in an old people’s home.  Despite his intentions, he is one of the only person to show compassion and tenderness towards some of the people in his care, and it was hard not to like (or at least have some respect for) him, although he made no attempt to hide his less-than-pure actions from the reader.

The final story in the collection was also my favourite.  ‘Funny Boy’, set in the late 1980s in Ford County, describes how a young man with AIDS returns to his home town after living in San Francisco and New York.  He has come home to die, but despite his illness, people in Clanton, Ford County are largely unsympathetic, due to both his homosexuality and his illness.  Lack of understanding about AIDS is demonstrated in the way people refuse to shake his hand, or refuse to even touch anything which he has touched (it’s worth remembering that in the late 1980s, AIDS was a relatively newly discovered condition and there was far less understanding of it than there is now).  However, he does form one connection of sorts with an elderly black lady namd Emporia who agrees to look after him in the hope of securing her own home as payment.  This story made me both angry (at the attitude of people towards Adrian and his condition) and sad.

It’s easy to see why John Grisham has sold as many books as he has.  He simply tells a great story in an engaging fashion, and it’s easy to lose yourself in one of his books for a few hours.  Short stories don’t always hold the reader’s attention in the same way as a full length novels – there is less time to devote to characterisation and twists and turns – but these stories were very enjoyable.

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