Publisher: Doubleday, 2009
Audiobook: Narrated by the author – 8 hours, 42 minutes
I found this audio gem at the library about six months ago. I don’t know why it’s been sitting all this time untouched on my iPod. I got pushed, or I should say enticed, into reading this when another story I was listening to stopped and this one started up while my hands were deep in dirty dishwater. I didn’t stop, even after my dishes were clean. It grabbed me right away in the first story.
The first thing I liked about this audio was that it was read by the author, John Grisham. I know some people don’t like him anymore. I also agree that he doesn’t have an actor-level voice, but I thought he was perfect for this set of stories set a few decades ago in rural Mississippi. This is Grisham’s home base, the place he’s most comfortable. Although he’s a good writer of legal thrillers, at his best he’s a “storyteller of old.” This collection of stories shows off that talent.
The second thing that grabbed me right away was the characters in the first story – Blood Drive. I was taken immediately away from my own surroundings and transported to the rural south to meet people that bear a little resemblance to people I’ve known but can’t exactly recall meeting. Do you know what I mean? In this first story we meet, first, residents of a very small town where a young man working construction has been injured. Help in the form of blood donations is need. Two other young men volunteer and a third joins in. They must travel up to the big city – Memphis. This is a whole new world for these boys. They find themselves drinking beer in a strip club and other assorted activities. Very funny.
In Fetching Raymond we meet Raymond’s older brother who goes to great effort to borrow a van, pick up his younger brother and wheel-chair-bound mother. They drive south to the state prison. Throughout the drive we get to know these three people and also Raymond, the youngest son who is in prison. The story is told in a nice developing way so that its somewhat of a mystery as to why they are really going to the prison. It’s a sad but spellbinding story.
There are five more stories in Ford County each one more captivating than the previous one. The last two were, in my opinion, the best. Quiet Haven is the story of a man working in an average small town nursing home. His actions are very deliberate as he goes about getting the job, making friends, giving care, ferreting out the gossip, and so forth. The reader is not sure what’s really happening here until the end. I thought it was funny.
The last story, Funny Boy, was not funny. It was sad, moving, and made me mad. A man who escaped the small town of Clanton in his late teens has come home to die. It’s the mid-1980s and he has AIDS. No one wants to be near him, especially his family. He doesn’t want to be there either, but the expense of his medications has caused him to be nearly destitute. How all of this is arranged and handled makes for a head-shaking story.
I love the wonderful, rich heritage of southern storytelling. I think this fits in well with that tradition. Explaining the actions of the people in the story fell a little exaggerated, but not by much which is what I like about southern stories. All of the actions by these characters seemed quite possible and not the least exaggerated. With John Grisham’s experience in small town Mississippi I have a feeling that parts of the stories had probably come from real life. They certainly feel that way.
Please don’t skip these stories because you don’t like John Grisham anymore or because you don’t like short stories. Ford County is outside the realm of those two stereotypes. I highly recommend.