John Grisham’s A Painted House is not a legal thriller in his usual style. This is the story of a family in rural Arkansas who live off their land and work hard all year round. Their greatest aspiration is to paint their house, but they rarely have enough money left to buy a can of paint.
The story is narrated by seven year old Luke Chandler who wants to play for the Cardinals when he grows up. He lives with his parents and grandparents on the family farm, and they grow cotton. Come summer time, the family hires Mexican workers to help out in the fields. The family owns a beat up truck and Luke often rides with his grandpa into town. Coffee, sugar and flour are what they need. They grow almost everything else. Luke loves these trips for the Tootsie Roll that his grandpa buys for him.
There is trouble between the Mexicans and the hill people. Luke guards a horrible secret and is sure something bad is going to happen. Luke’s mother and grandmother can everything they grow. The Mexicans make fresh tortillas and eat them with beans and tomatoes. The Chandlers are fighting a losing battle as they are left with hardly any money every year. Life on the farm is much different from life in America elsewhere. Luke’s mother wants to take him away and wants her husband to work on an assembly line so that they can have a secure future. She wants to go away from the ignominy of living in an unpainted house.
A Painted House is enjoyable more as a journey than a typical plot with a beginning and end. The glimpses into the Chandlers’ life are realistic and come alive for the reader. The book shows that John Grisham is a good story teller, and not just a lawyer who writes legal thrillers.