Note: I am a huge fan of John Grisham’s writing. I’ve read every book he has written, and a hardback copy of each one is prominently displayed on my bookshelves. A few weeks ago while doing my morning Facebook cruise, I came across a posting announcing that 25 galley copies of Calico Joe, Grisham’s yet-to-be-released novel about baseball, were being given away to bloggers. Seriously?! The idea of one of my favorite writers penning a book about my favorite sport made me positively giddy, and I rushed to his site to submit my blog address for approval–and found that 157 bloggers had already beaten me to it. Dang it! I sent my email anyway, though, and the next day I received an email back from Doubleday Publishing Company informing me I had been selected to receive one of the advance copies and encouraging me to blog about it (and to share it with Doubleday). What follows, then, is my review of John Grisham’s latest novel, Calico Joe (on sale everywhere April 10, 2012).
It’s the bottom of the ninth, and the home team is down by three with two outs and bases loaded–and a rookie coming to the plate. Fair weather fans have long since left the ballpark, but the diehards are on their feet, fingers crossed and rally caps turned backwards as they whisper silent prayers. “C’mon, kid, you can do it. You can do it, c’mon.” Strike one is called (it looked low and outside); strike two is swung on and missed. A collective sigh of disappointment echoes through the stadium . . . and then, just when all hope seems lost, the rookie connects with a 98-mph fastball and sends a screamer sailing over the centerfield wall–a base-emptying, walk-off grand slam.
And in the famous words of Jack Buck, the former, long-time sportscaster for the St. Louis Cardinals, “Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!”
I love baseball, and I greatly admire John Grisham’s story-telling abilities. So when I had the chance recently to read an advance copy of Grisham’s latest novel, Calico Joe–a book about baseball!–I knew I was carrying my biases with me into the first chapter. I readily admit that. Even so, in my mind Grisham has delivered his own, written version of one of baseball’s most exciting events–a walk-off grand slam.
On first base was Paul Tracey, a grown man remembering the tumultuous summer of his eleventh year when his entire little boy world revolved around the game of baseball. Not only was Paul a pitcher for his Little League team, but his father, Warren Tracey, was a pitcher (albeit a mediocre one) for the New York Mets. Paul passionately followed his father’s career–every game, every pitch–until the events of that summer caused him to hate his father with an even greater passion and to put away his own uniform forever.
On second base, then, was the turbulent relationship between a young boy and the demeaning father who ultimately proved himself unworthy of his son’s worship. Even though he was a Major League pitcher, Warren Tracey never met his potential or realized his dreams of greatness–and never accepted that the fault might be his own. He punished his wife and kids for his failures, and life at home was especially unpleasant for young Paul, who began to look forward to the road games that would keep his abusive father away from home for weeks on end. The father/son relationship spiraled from bad to worse when Paul and his buddies found a new idol in a Chicago Cubs uniform, a young rookie by the name of Joe Castle. Castle–soon dubbed “Calico Joe” because of his small-town beginnings in Calico Rock, Arkansas–was an overnight hitting sensation whose meteoric rise shattered records and led him to become every pitcher’s worst nightmare.
It was only a matter of time before Calico Joe would swing for the fences with Warren Tracey on the mound, and so on third base was the conflict that arose between a failing pitcher and the rising star batter who had taken his place in his son’s affections. Tracey was humiliated by Calico Joe’s first at bat; he would not be humiliated again. When Calico Joe came up to bat again in the top of the third, the events that followed changed both of their lives forever–as well as the life of the young son in the stands who was watching the horror unfold.
Just as with his legal cliff-hangers, Grisham provided enough page-turning suspense and palpable tension to keep the reader on edge–and then, with the bases loaded, Grisham stepped into the batter’s box and delivered. His walk-off grand slam cleared the bases when a son’s decision to forgive a father’s transgressions led to a reunion between the father and son, the pitcher and batter and offered all parties a chance to settle unfinished business and finally put to rest the demons that had plagued them for over thirty years.
John Grisham was already an All Star in my book, and with his release of Calico Joe I hereby induct him into my personal Hall of Fame, where he will join such other heavy hitters as Emerson, Poe, Steinbeck, Neruda and Conroy. My only suggestions for improving Calico Joe before making it available to the general public (not that the esteemed Mr. Grisham has asked for any suggestions from me) are 1) Take the book into extra innings! It was such an enjoyable read that I didn’t want it to end so quickly, and 2) Put that hot, young rookie in a St. Louis Cardinals’ uniform instead!
And for you readers who are Grisham fans or baseball fanatics (or for those of you just looking for a great book to curl up with), I suggest you add Calico Joe to your line-up of “must reads”; you won’t regret it.
(Addendum: After posting this blog, I emailed the link to Doubleday and received the following response a short time later: “Dear Karen: This is a great review! Thanks very much. I just posted about it on Grisham’s Facebook Page which should send some eyeballs your way. Enjoy your day!” https://www.facebook.com/JohnGrisham Pretty cool!)