Thursday, June 28, 2012

Say It Ain't So, Joe

Calico Joe
by John Grisham
Reviewed by Steve Thomas

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but if you can’t, then what’s the point of a cover? Isn’t it there, much like a movie trailer, to entice you to read it by giving you a key scene, a character, or a general sense of the book? A well-designed cover dares you to judge the book it surrounds.
By its cover, there’s no denying that Calico Joe is a baseball novel; the cover is dominated by a soaring baseball and a baseball field. Grisham is leaning on a bat in the author photo. The story hinges on player Joe Castle breaking arcane records, which the narrator details in play-by-play commentaries.

And Grisham’s name is also on the cover, which gives the reader another opportunity to make judgement calls. Is the story about a lawyer? Well, no, but Grisham has shown that he can write serviceable non-legal stories in the past, like A Painted House and Skipping Christmas. The fact that it isn’t a legal thriller actually attracted me to it, because I’ve found his legal work to be overloaded with a dour cynicism of late. Plus, I loves me some baseball.

The narrator is a bit dull and two-dimensional but he’s really just there to facilitate the story of his father, a pitcher for the Mets, and “Calico Joe” Castle, a wunderkind player, and how their careers intersect and end in tragedy. No surprises await the reader, as the story progresses as expected, but it is entertaining enough for a quick summer read, though the non-baseball fan may want to keep his distance.

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