A Painted House

A Painted House

by John Grisham
A Painted House

A Painted House

by John Grisham

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Overview

The hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day. It was a Wednesday, early in September 1952. The Cardinals were five games behind the Dodgers with three weeks to go, and the season looked hopeless. The cotton, however, was waist-high to my father, over my head, and he and my grandfather could be heard before supper whispering words that were seldom heard. It could be a "good crop."

Thus begins the new novel from John Grisham, a story inspired by his own childhood in rural Arkansas. The narrator is a farm boy named Luke Chandler, age seven, who lives in the cotton fields with his parents and grandparents in a little house that's never been painted. The Chandlers farm eighty acres that they rent, not own, and when the cotton is ready they hire a truckload of Mexicans and a family from the Ozarks to help harvest it.

For six weeks they pick cotton, battling the heat, the rain, the fatigue, and, sometimes, each other. As the weeks pass Luke sees and hears things no seven-year-old could possibly be prepared for, and finds himself keeping secrets that not only threaten the crop but will change the lives of the Chandlers forever.

A Painted House is a moving story of one boy's journey from innocence to experience.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345532046
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/28/2012
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 31,021
Product dimensions: 4.22(w) x 7.74(h) x 1.16(d)

About the Author

About The Author
John Grisham lives with his family in Virginia and Mississippi. His previous novels are A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, The Partner, The Street Lawyer, and The Testament.

Hometown:

Oxford, Mississippi, and Albemarle County, Virginia

Date of Birth:

February 8, 1955

Place of Birth:

Jonesboro, Arkansas

Education:

B.S., Mississippi State, 1977; J.D., University of Mississippi, 1981

Read an Excerpt

Chapter I

The hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day. It was a Wednesday, early in September 1952. The Cardinals were five games behind the Dodgers with three weeks to go, and the season looked hopeless. The cotton, however, was waist-high to my father, over my head, and he and my grandfather could be heard before supper whispering words that were seldom heard. It could be a "good crop."

They were farmers, hardworking men who embraced pessimism only when discussing the weather and the crops. There was too much sun, or too much rain, or the threat of floods in the lowlands, or the rising prices of seed and fertilizer, or the uncertainties of the markets. On the most perfect of days, my mother would quietly say to me, "Don't worry. The men will find something to worry about."

Pappy, my grandfather, was worried about the price for labor when we went searching for the hill people. They were paid for every hundred pounds of cotton they picked. The previous year, according to him, it was $1.50 per hundred. He'd already heard rumors that a farmer over in Lake City was offering $1.60.

This played heavily on his mind as we rode to town. He never talked when he drove, and this was because, according to my mother, not much of a driver herself, he was afraid of motorized vehicles. His truck was a 1939 Ford, and with the exception of our old John Deere tractor, it was our sole means of transportation. This was no particular problem except when we drove to church and my mother and grandmother were forced to sit snugly together up front in their Sunday best while my father and I rode in the back, engulfed in dust. Modern sedans were scarce in rural Arkansas.

Pappy drove thirty-seven miles per hour. His theory was that every automobile had a speed at which it ran most efficiently, and through some vaguely defined method he had determined that his old truck should go thirty-seven. My mother said (to me) that it was ridiculous. She also said he and my father had once fought over whether the truck should go faster. But my father rarely drove it, and if I happened to be riding with him, he would level off at thirty-seven, out of respect for Pappy. My mother said she suspected he drove much faster when he was alone.

We turned onto Highway 135, and, as always, I watched Pappy carefully shift the gears -- pressing slowly on the clutch, delicately prodding the stick shift on the steering column -- until the truck reached its perfect speed. Then I leaned over to check the speedometer: thirty-seven. He smiled at me as if we both agreed that the truck belonged at that speed.

Highway 135 ran straight and flat through the farm country of the Arkansas Delta. On both sides as far as I could see, the fields were white with cotton. It was time for the harvest, a wonderful season for me because they turned out school for two months. For my grandfather, though, it was a time of endless worry.

Copyright © 2001 by Belfry Holdings, Inc.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“John Grisham is about as good a storyteller as we’ve got.”—The New York Times Book Review

“The kind of book you read slowly because you don’t want it to end ... John Grisham takes command of this literary category just as forcefully as he did legal thrillers with The Firm.... Never let it be said this man doesn’t know how to spin a good yarn.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Characters that no reader will forget. .. prose as clean and strong as any Grisham has yet laid down ... and a drop-dead evocation of a time and place that mark this novel as a classic slice of Americana.”—Publishers Weekly

“Some of the finest dialogue of his career ... Every detail rings clear and true, and nothing is wasted.”—Seattle Times

Read all of John Grisham’s #1 New York Times bestsellers:

The Brethren The Testament The Street Lawyer The Partner The Runaway Jury The Rainmaker The Chamber The Client The Pelican Brief The Firm A Time to Kill

Available from Dell

Coming soon!

The Summons

The new novel by John Grisham

Available from Doubleday

Reading Group Guide

Beautifully evoking an extraordinary time and place, A PAINTED HOUSE has captivated millions of readers. Depicting aspects of family, community, trust, and faith through the eyes of a charming little boy, the book makes a memorable choice for reading groups. The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of John Grisham's A PAINTED HOUSE. We hope they will enrich your experience of this enduring novel.

1. Luke Chandler is exposed to events that many adults have never even seen. What is the effect of reading about these circumstances—from a difficult childbirth to the possibility of financial ruin—through the eyes of a seven-year-old narrator?

2. The Chandlers cannot afford some of the hallmarks of the1950s American dream, such as a television set or a stylish-looking car. Yet other aspects of that time period, such as the Korean War, make an unmistakable impression on them. How does the Chandler household measure up to your own memories or impressions of that era?

3. Several generations of women are presented in A PAINTED HOUSE, including Gran, Luke's mother, and Tally. How do contemporary women compare to those three characters?

4. Baseball is a central theme in the novel, providing Luke with heroes, dreams, and a diversion from the exhaustion of picking cotton. When the Arkansans challenge the Mexicans to a baseball game, however, Luke sees a darker side to competition. In what way does this scene foreshadow the conclusion of the novel?

5. How might the novel have been different if Luke's father or mother had narrated it?

6. How does your opinion of Cowboy change throughout thenovel? What do you think attracts Tally to him? How did you react to his final showdown with Hank?

7. Discuss the role of Ricky in A PAINTED HOUSE. Though we never meet him directly, he does play a key part in the progress of the plot. What is the effect of his absence, and the letter writing it inspires? In what way does his experience differ from that of modern soldiers?

8. What keeps Pappy from giving up on farming?

9. What role do the Methodist and Baptist churches play in the Black Oak community? How well do religious teachings serve Luke during 1952?

10. In what way is Black Oak a snapshot of the world at large?

11. Luke says that most members of his community are descended from Scotch-Irish immigrants. What are some of the legacies of this ancestry?

12. The weather is a powerful force in A PAINTED HOUSE; floods, heat, hail, and tornadoes all add suspense to the novel. What is it like for the Chandlers to live at the complete mercy of the weather? How is their situation different from that of the cousins who perform indoor industrial work up north? What are the costs and benefits of relying on the natural world for your livelihood?

13. At the end of the novel, Luke and his parents become migrant workers themselves, venturing off to a new part of the country solely for employment opportunities. Twenty-first-century workers are often asked to transfer to a new part of the globe in order to further their careers. What is the best way to make decisions between financial security and family or cultural ties?

14. Poverty is a highly relative concept in A PAINTED HOUSE. Though they have no indoor plumbing and have perilously high debts, the Chandlers nonetheless give generously to those in need. How do you define 'rich' and 'poor'?

15. The Chandler house itself conveys a meaningful message. What is the significance of the way in which it gets painted? Do you believe that Pappy really does finish the job after Luke and his family leave? What is the effect of that detail? What causes Luke to set aside his dream of ordering a Cardinals jacket and instead use his meager earnings to buy paint?

16. In terms of plot and writing style, are any elements of John Grisham's legal thrillers evident in A PAINTED HOUSE?

17. Discuss your own coming-of-age story. What are your first memories of home? Who were the first people you loved?

18. A PAINTED HOUSE ends with tantalizing possibilities. Speculate about how Luke's life unfolds after his family leaves the Arkansas Delta.

Interviews

A Letter from John Grisham

Dear Friends:

A Painted House is not a legal thriller. In fact, there is not a single lawyer, dead or alive, in this story. Nor are there judges, trials, courtrooms, conspiracies or nagging social issues.

A Painted House is a work of fiction. It was inspired by my childhood in rural Arkansas. The setting is reasonably accurate, though historical accuracy should not be taken too seriously. One or two of these characters may actually have lived and breathed on this earth, though I know them only through family lore, which in my family is a most unreliable source. One or two of these events may indeed have taken place, though I've heard so many different versions of these events that I believe none of them myself.

Sincerely,

John Grisham

Foreword

1. Luke Chandler is exposed to events that many adults have never even seen. What is the effect of reading about these circumstances—from a difficult childbirth to the possibility of financial ruin—through the eyes of a seven-year-old narrator?

2. The Chandlers cannot afford some of the hallmarks of the1950s American dream, such as a television set or a stylish-looking car. Yet other aspects of that time period, such as the Korean War, make an unmistakable impression on them. How does the Chandler household measure up to your own memories or impressions of that era?

3. Several generations of women are presented in A PAINTED HOUSE, including Gran, Luke’s mother, and Tally. How do contemporary women compare to those three characters?

4. Baseball is a central theme in the novel, providing Luke with heroes, dreams, and a diversion from the exhaustion of picking cotton. When the Arkansans challenge the Mexicans to a baseball game, however, Luke sees a darker side to competition. In what way does this scene foreshadow the conclusion of the novel?

5. How might the novel have been different if Luke’s father or mother had narrated it?

6. How does your opinion of Cowboy change throughout the novel? What do you think attracts Tally to him? How did you react to his final showdown with Hank?

7. Discuss the role of Ricky in A PAINTED HOUSE. Though we never meet him directly, he does play a key part in the progress of the plot. What is the effect of his absence, and the letter writing it inspires? In what way does his experience differ from that of modern soldiers?

8. What keeps Pappy from giving up on farming?

9. What roledo the Methodist and Baptist churches play in the Black Oak community? How well do religious teachings serve Luke during 1952?

10. In what way is Black Oak a snapshot of the world at large?

11. Luke says that most members of his community are descended from Scotch-Irish immigrants. What are some of the legacies of this ancestry?

12. The weather is a powerful force in A PAINTED HOUSE; floods, heat, hail, and tornadoes all add suspense to the novel. What is it like for the Chandlers to live at the complete mercy of the weather? How is their situation different from that of the cousins who perform indoor industrial work up north? What are the costs and benefits of relying on the natural world for your livelihood?

13. At the end of the novel, Luke and his parents become migrant workers themselves, venturing off to a new part of the country solely for employment opportunities. Twenty-first-century workers are often asked to transfer to a new part of the globe in order to further their careers. What is the best way to make decisions between financial security and family or cultural ties?

14. Poverty is a highly relative concept in A PAINTED HOUSE. Though they have no indoor plumbing and have perilously high debts, the Chandlers nonetheless give generously to those in need. How do you define “rich” and “poor”?

15. The Chandler house itself conveys a meaningful message. What is the significance of the way in which it gets painted? Do you believe that Pappy really does finish the job after Luke and his family leave? What is the effect of that detail? What causes Luke to set aside his dream of ordering a Cardinals jacket and instead use his meager earnings to buy paint?

16. In terms of plot and writing style, are any elements of John Grisham’s legal thrillers evident in A PAINTED HOUSE?

17. Discuss your own coming-of-age story. What are your first memories of home? Who were the first people you loved?

18. A PAINTED HOUSE ends with tantalizing possibilities. Speculate about how Luke’s life unfolds after his family leaves the Arkansas Delta.

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