Grisham Slams One Out of the Ballpark with ‘Calico Joe’


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!)

I had already planned a day trip to Calico Rock, Arkansas, over spring break--and when I received Grisham's "Calico Joe" in the mail the day before my planned trip, it seemed only fitting to take the book along. This picture was taken on the steps of the Trimble Cabin in Calico Rock, one of the few log cabins left in the U.S. that pre-dates the Civil War. For more information (and pictures) on the historic little town of Calico Rock--which, according to Wikipedia, is "the only town in the United States where a living community has surrounded and preserved a ghost town"--check out my previous post: Ghosts, Good Ol’ Boys and Chain Gangs: My Trip to Peppersauce Bottoms

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About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
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21 Responses to Grisham Slams One Out of the Ballpark with ‘Calico Joe’

  1. emjayandthem says:

    Serendipity much? Thank you for the review .. which I skimmed … because I’m a JG fan, too, and will read it … Great pic!
    MJ

    • MJ, serendipity to the extreme! I tried not to give away too much in the review; it’s a great book, and if you’re already a Grisham fan, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Thank you!

  2. Jamie Adams says:

    Great review!! I know you are bound to secrecy but I want to know how it changed their lives! I know you won’t tell me, so I will just have to read the book. I didn’t know that Calico Rock is “the only town in the United States where a living community has surrounded and preserved a ghost town.” (According to Wikipedia). That adds quite a bit of mystery! I wonder if that has any bearing on his story.

    • Thank you, Jamie! Technically, I’m not “bound to secrecy,” but I’m still not going to tell you how it changed their lives–read the book! Calico Rock is a pretty cool place to visit; it doesn’t play a significant role in the telling of the story, but it does serve as a nice background. I know you’re not a big baseball fan, but the “story behind the story” is a great read …

  3. RayEtta says:

    I will be putting “Calico Joe” on my to read soon list.

  4. I love John Grisham & have read all of his books! I recently finished “The Litagators”… so good!! I am definitely intrigued by your review of “Calico Joe”, & will read it as soon as it becomes available. Thanks so much!

  5. O. Leonard says:

    Not that I needed any coaxing, but I can now hardly wait to read Grisham’s new book. It was an excellent book review. I have the exact same reverence for the author. If you look at the headline photo on my blog, you will see the hardcover Grisham novels on the shelf in the upper left.

    • Thank you, Mr. Leonard, and I hope you enjoy his latest addition to the line-up. I checked out your headline photo, and while I was there I couldn’t help reading through your blog on name brands–great blog!–and scrolling down and laughing at the “Wa-sa-bi” punch line under the delicious picture for the previous post!

      • O. Leonard says:

        Thanks for stopping by. Just so know, I built the wall of bookcases myself and I’m pretty proud of them, probably why a section of them are proudly displayed on What the Fluffy. Uh Oh, I just realized you like sushi. You might even love sushi.

      • Very nice woodwork! And yes, I am a fan of sushi–wasabi, not so much!

  6. Pingback: Ford County « Literary Legends Quests & Odysseys

  7. John Bradley-O'Neill says:

    Good morning, Karen! You struck a home run with this post! You also brought to the forefront of my cranium a John Grisham anecdote of mine, which I’ll outline below. I’m making pancakes for breakfast this morning…batter up! I have to tell you right off the bat that I LOVE baseball…I played on a team from age seven to fourteen, when, in the midst of a game, I quite literally threw down my glove and marched off the field as I had had quite enough of the players parents’ perpetual verbal interference and cat calls. They took the game way too seriously and played it vicariously through their offspring. Not that I stopped playing baseball…from that point on I played casual games with pals for FUN.

    Mind you, isn’t life itself a baseball game? We all go to bat and either strike out or make it to first or second base. Those with determination make it to third or get a home run in from time to time! Some prefer life in the outfield, hoping and praying they either catch a ball or that it goes towards the other guy. The game is as finite as life; three innings equated to a three act play, with all of us at the baseball diamond and members of the human team. Shakespeare could have been a baseball commentator when he wrote of all of us making our entrances and exits…on the field….our game of life being sponsored by the local hardware and paint store…sans bats, sans caps, sans gloves, sans everything. Ya think?

    And speaking of cat calls…

    I must tell you this true tale (or tail) which involves John Grisham’s “The Pelican Brief”. Years ago I went to Jamaica for a vacation. I always take a couple of books with me to read on the beach. The thing is, at home I read serious and heavy stuff, but on vacation, I love to read TRASH…my neurons need a vacation, too! I just don’t want anyone to see me reading the trash…hypocrite am I. So, I took the front and back cover of “The Pelican Brief” and glued it on to Kitty Kelly’s “Sinatra: His Way” (after removing Kitty’s cover, of course). Yep, there I was, lying on a beach, and everyone who passed my lounge chair thought I was digging Grisham, when in fact I was nibbling at Kitty’s delicious and scandalous catnip! Kitty really sank her sharp claws into Sinatra and scratched out his publicists manufactured stellar reputation. I enjoyed Kitty’s literary meows about ol’ blue eyes, and I have the wonderfully talented John Grisham to thank for quite literally providing me with the “cover” I needed to go undetected!

    Thanks again for the great post. I’ll definitely read “Calico Joe”…with no Kitty Kelly cover glued on to it.

    • Thank you, Mr. O’Neill! If you’re a fan of Grisham AND baseball–like me–then I think you will really enjoy Calico Joe (minus the Kitty Kelly cover!) and will relate to the narrator, who also walked away from the game at a young age. That’s quite an interesting analogy about life being a baseball game–and if so, may we both go into extra innings!

  8. bronxboy55 says:

    I’ve never read a Grisham novel, Karen, but you’ve convinced me to get this one. Great review and excellent post. And an amazing coincidence that you’d planned a trip to Calico Rock, with the book arriving just in time.

    • Thank you, but seriously–you’ve never read a Grisham novel? I am one of those strange people who frequently is reading three or four different books at the same time–while reading Calico Joe, I was also reading Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfullness by Alexandra Fuller, Photographing Flowers by Geoff Lawrence and Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream by Gregg Jones (which I’m still reading–and which was written by a guy I knew in high school). Grisham’s novels are usually suspenseful page-turners that provide great escape for me.

      It was quite the coincidence–and I don’t know if you’ve read my post about Calico Rock, but the trip was quite the experience as well!

  9. Arindam says:

    It’s a great review. I’ve also never read a Grisham novel. But now after this review I have to read this one.

  10. DCircle says:

    Mrs. E… Just had to tell you, thanks to reading your review on ‘Calico Joe’, I picked up a copy last week and read the book in two days. I truly enjoyed this book and plan on reading another JG novel, ‘Bleachers’ (yes, I love baseball!). I surprised myself and my family with reading this one, as everyone knows I do not like to read. Thanks for the review. 🙂

    • Miss Donna, what a tremendous compliment–thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the book (it’s hard NOT to when you’re a baseball fan!), and I’m glad you’re planning on reading more. You’re never too old to develop a new passion … 🙂

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