John Grisham's novels have always been praised for their plots but sometimes have taken heat for their lack of compelling characters. This is certainly not the case in Grisham's latest novel Calico Joe. In this book two characters dominate the story. One is Warren Tracey, a semi-successful pitcher in the major leagues. The other is Joe Castle, a rookie who hits the major leagues and destroys records in his first game. These two men come to life on the pages of Grisham's novella and carve their way into your memory.
Calico Joe is a book about the game of baseball. It underscores how our country has supported this sport for many, many years and how important are the people who play the game. Warren's son Paul Tracey is the narrator of the story; back in the 70's he lived and breathed the game. When Castle arrived on the scene he quickly became Paul's idol, but Paul's father destroyed the rookie with a fastball that intentionally beaned him on the head. Joe Castle's short career in baseball was over and the game was forever ruined for Paul.
Years later Paul formulates a plan to get his estranged father to the town of Calico Rock, Arkansas in order to apologize to Joe Castle. It is a pipe dream at best but Paul feels it is worth a try. Warren has never acknowledged intentionally hitting Joe and Paul feels like now is the time for it to be done.
The book is simple in its theme and presentation but sometimes the simplest stories are the most effective. It is evident from the way Grisham crafts the story that he is a baseball fan of the first order and the story he has created details the best and the worst of the game. It shows how baseball creates heroes and then tosses them aside if they lose their winning edge. He also demonstrates how a young person can gain instant celebrity on the basis of his talent.
Grisham concentrates on detailing the characters in his story more so than in any other of his previous works. He tries to give a balance to their personalities so that someone such as Warren Tracey doesn't come across as all bad, and a heroic figure such as Joe Castle doesn't come across as totally perfect.
The main ingredient of the story is heart. It comes across in Paul Tracey's narration and in the possible meeting between Warren and Joe. This is an emotional story and one that will stay with the readers long after the pages have ended.
This isn't the John Grisham of the courtroom thriller, but rather is a Grisham who is evolving into America's storyteller. In Calico Joe he salutes the world of baseball with a story that tugs at the heart.
Calico Joe is published by Doubleday. It contains 198 pages and sells for $24.95.
Jackie K Cooper