Friday, January 13, 2012

Why I Loved John Grisham, Then Hated Him, And Now Love Him Again

Everybody knows who John Grisham is, right? If you said no, then please crawl out from under the rock where you've been hiding for the last fifteen years. For everyone else, please pay attention- this is very important.
The first book I ever read by John Grisham was A Time To Kill. Oh. My.God. I was simply blown away.
I could picture it all so clearly. I wept for little Tanya and her Daddy, and again for Roark's unrequited love for the Southern laww-yuuh. The story was brilliant, and original, and the action and drama kept me on the edge of my seat. I was 14 years old and I finished that book in two days of my family's summer vacation in Cape Cod. I was furious when my parents tried to drag me away from the book for sightseeing. I got incredibly excited when I was told it had been made into a Major Motion Picture and as soon as we returned from our vacation, I made my father run to the video store so we could watch it for family movie and pizza night. It was exactly like I had imagined it in my head (which is the first and last time that has ever happened with a book-to-movie translation).
I then made my mother take me to the library where I borrowed every John Grisham book they had and devoured them in a completely ravenous manner. I decided I was going to become an attorney and go to Tulane just like John Grisham. The Tulane dream held until Senior Year when I started narrowing down my college choices and I realized I really hate hot weather and Tulane was in Louisiana where it never drops below 150 degrees all year round. The lawyer dream lasted through my first week of college in Gettysburg, PA when I realized no way in heck was I going to make it through 7 years of THAT bullcrap!
Around the same time as my collegiate and career path disillusionment came about, I started getting really, really annoyed with John Grisham. How many legal thrillers can someone actually read, anyways? Same story, different characters. Even the covers of the books looked identical in one reprinting. I'd like to know who was responsible for that mishugina design choice! Anyways, I stopped reading his work, figuring the Curse of the Formula Writer had finally gotten him in its clutches for good. For many years, this was true, actually.
Then something wonderful happened. John Grisham woke up one morning and said, "Wow! Everything I've written for the past several years has been crap! What is wrong with me? I need to make a change, like, now!" That's how I like to imagine it happened, anyways. It may have been a more complicated financial decision based on falling book sales, or the death of his Editor, or some other horribly boring reason, but nonetheless, John Grisham wrote something truly unique and wonderful once more. A Painted House was published in 2001 and ended his 12 year legal thriller monopoly. One day in 2011, I experienced a series of unfortunate events, and was left facing an interminably long wait without something to read. I rushed into a nearby supermarket,  hoping for something to salvage the day, and John Grisham being the only author whose name I recognized amongst the bargain bin novels, I grabbed it with the full expectation that I was going to rue my choice. To my humble surprise, the book grabbed my attention, and I quickly realized that this was not another formula story. This, my friend, was the heart and soul of a phenomenal writer rediscovering what he loved about his job.
John Grisham has continued to writer legal thrillers, and I've read a few more of them since childhood, although none of his latest ones. These are the moneymakers, of course. The fact that he has broken away every now and then and written something surprising has completely redeemed him as an esteemed writer. This is my opinion, of course, many people never had a complaint to begin with, but I like knowing that John Grisham is a truly gifted artist, and the fact that he CAN still write an amazing, original story allows me to forgive him even when he doesn't!