Thursday, November 05, 2009

Walmart and John Grisham's Ford County

Call it due diligence...Okay, my work is close to a Walmart so I went there on my lunch hour. I got into the mood by getting a quarter pounder from the in store McDonald's, read a copy of US Magazine to find out why the Bachelor dumped Melissa Rycroft, then went to find Ford County, John Grisham's short story collection 16.99. The store was pretty busy, but I was the only person in the book section there.

It was in a shelf marked best sellers which was dominated by a huge quantity of copies of Twilight and its sequels (there were so many I thought the display itself was painted black and I suppose this supports my theories that Walmart really is a big box take on Vampirism). I did not, however find a collection of short stories by Stephanie Meyer. In terms of number of copies stocked, the Grisham was second to Twilight.

Ford County was directly in between a book by Danielle Steel and one by Nicholas Sparks. On the far right of the display, they had a book by Glenn Beck. On the far left, they had a book by Rush Limbaugh (just kidding about the Rush, there was no book from anyone left of Glenn Beck there). I live in the middle of Northern California btw where teabagging remains something you mix either with hot water or with another consenting adult so it was surprising to see the Beck book there as the lone political tome on the shelf.

Ford County was on the only book of short stories on the bestseller display. I did later find a copy of Olive Kitteredge on a distant bottom shelf sitting next to a single copy of Angela's Ashes. There were also multiple copies of Tuesdays with Mori and Mitch Ablom's complete opus of inspirational writing on a high shelf. Interestingly, no Harry Potter. My last visit to the book section of Wal Mart was all Harry Potter. btw I'm a big Harry Potter fan,even to the point that I would probably buy and read a JK Rowling literary novel.

No, I didn't read the whole book or even all of a story (that would be wrong). I did read the first pages of most of the seven stories, skimmed a bit, and checked the endings of the 7 stories. The stories are all really long, actually too long to be posted here even on novellas. While this isn't completely fair, I'm told that standard slushpile practice is to read the first page then make a quick decision.

I'd forgotten that Grisham is a wonderfully clear writer. You know where you are, what he's talking about, and you don't trip over any sentences, all with a minimum of effort. I think that serves him well in his thrillers. My one venture into a regular Grisham book, it struck me that he wasn't necessarily great at setting mood, evoking place, or finding imaginative ways to describe things (he's no Michael Chabon that way). Not a lot of metaphor, imagery, symbolism, etc. Anyway, this virtue also is something of a handicap to me because it leads to a sort of flatness of tone and the impression the insights aren't all that deep either. That may just be me, I notice that writers who see detail, make the language sing, and know how to cast shadows with their description and bring out ambiguities also often have deeper insights.

He tosses in some Southern Grotesque, on page one he tells us that someone's mom is 400 pounds (that one may be American normal or at least fast food normal these days vs. Flannery O'connor grotesque though) and there are similar details about the good old boy protagonists who wind up at a strip club instead of donating blood for their friend.

I don't think it was length alone that kept these stories out of the New Yorker. They may, however, be perfectly enjoyable stories. I'd have to read them all the way through to know that. There's definitely more to a story than style and voice and those things might be in those stories. Still, when I think Ford and short stories, I'll probably think of Richard rather than Ford County.

That said, I'd love to get my own book into Walmart someday. My guess is they sell a lot of books.



At 11/07/2009 12:40:00 AM, Blogger benny06 said...

Thanks for the review, CL. I had thought Grisham had a new novel out, not short stories. No offense to you as a short story writer, I'm not likely to buy that work, especially as Grisham refuses to allow his works to be published in e-book formats for the Kindle or Sony e-book reader. My point is that if you publish a similar work of short stories, that you allow the publisher to explore e-book formats.

I guess I will read biographies during my upcoming vacation. Sigh, I wanted a good turn paging mystery or novel.

At 11/09/2009 05:36:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Understand. I sort of wonder what the return rate at Walmart is going to be for Ford County.

I admire him for breaking from his bread and butter though. It's not a total page turner and it's not necessarily light reading, but I liked Anne Patchett's The Magician's Asistant. I also liked the Time Traveler's Wife, though the idea did start to wear thin at the end.

Neither one would fall into the "thriller" category though

At 11/25/2009 09:19:00 AM, Blogger benny06 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11/25/2009 09:26:00 AM, Blogger benny06 said...

I'm reading Rhino Ranch at the moment and now I discover I hadn't read the other books in the series about the main character by Larry McM. Oh well, it's fun to discover vignettes. I think this book will turn into a movie in a few years if one can work around the raunchy levity.

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At 12/24/2009 03:16:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

I'd go to Walmart if your book was there. And maybe for a few other things. Careful - falling prices!

At 12/29/2009 08:44:00 AM, Anonymous Tracy said...

I always enjoy John Grisham's novels but i am also one avid follower of Twilight and its sequels and it's on top of my reading list today!

Tracy, Velocity Fulfillment

At 1/24/2010 08:31:00 AM, Blogger Dale said...

For Christmas I got the John Grisham book but altered and relabelled Kevin Grisham in honour of a 30 Rock episode. I laughed and laughed and thought you needed to know.


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