The feckless banality of John Grisham

Having experienced only a small sliver of this man’s prodigious body of work, I still think I’m squarely in safe territory when I say that, as an author, John Grisham’s greatest accomplishment is his resemblance to Dennis Hopper. His writing, however, is shit.

As I said, until a day ago I wasn’t at all acquainted with Grisham and his bibliography of bestselling novels. It’s not that I’ve actively avoided them, so much as it was an utter lack of interest in confirming my not at all unreasonable assumption that the man’s words were as frivolous and disposable as, perhaps, an “origin story” one will sometimes find on the back label of certain food or drink products that vie for a more personal relationship with their consumers.

But then I heard the premise of a new book called Calico Joe, and I was intrigued: a young, can’t-miss prospect for the Chicago Cubs has his career suddenly and cruelly ended by one pitch, a beanball from a washed-up and frustrated New York Mets pitcher. This was to be my first encounter with the words of John Grisham, and if there is a merciful deity of any sort roaming the cosmos it will be my last.

It’s not just that the book is bad. Oh, it is, to be sure – the characters are broad cliches, their dialogue flat, the sentences comprising and surrounding both simplistic. But what goaded me so, to the point where I gave up two-thirds of the way through, is its sheer laziness. Calico Joe is paint-by-numbers writing boiled down to a watery primordial soup of simplicity.

You can see every checkpoint Grisham’s making sure to steer through in order to maintain cold, technical coherence in his plot (1. Estranged father is dying. 2. Son has important thing to accomplish before he dies. 3. Goes to small town and encounters old folks with country wisdom. etc)

You can feel how every insipid nickname (Calico Joe, The Kid) shamelessly strives to instill affection for cutout characters who have earned none.

You can throw up at the audaciously cliche and indolently written character beats (“Needless to say, we do not get together at Christmas and exchange gifts by the fire.”) What? What families actually do this outside of Norman Rockwell paintings? What authors actually write like this, outside of airport bookstores and checkout line displays?

John Grisham does, apparently. He also writes with the graceless style and static form of an imperceptive ten year old, which I suppose explains his staggering popularity with a public whose own writing and intellectual capabilities rarely clear even so low a bar as that. Fitting, then. With his content farm-esque production and the callow disengagement of his mentality, John Grisham’s words are lasting monuments to that particular concoction of capitalist reverence, ignorant languidness and manufactured nostalgia that we call Americana. He is truly a writer of his time.

And his time fucking sucks.