Friday, November 9, 2012

Where Is This Going?

When I was a kid, my family liked to work jigsaw puzzles. We had several in boxes that were stored in a bedroom closet, including some that had come to us from my mother's parents. One of the puzzles they gave us didn't have a box, which meant there was no picture to guide the person who was working on the puzzle. Instead, all the pieces were in a plastic bag that had a handwritten description of the picture (I believe it was a landscape scene with a guy fishing). Actually, I never saw this puzzle because I don't remember that any of us ever tried to work it.

Lately, I've been thinking about that puzzle in a bag as I'm reading A Painted House by John Grisham. I'm almost finished with the book now, and I still find myself asking, "Where is this going?" I've even done my trademark move of peeking ahead in the story, and I still can't figure it out! It very much reminds me of the picture-less puzzle - there are many pieces, and some of them are colorful and interesting by themselves, but I can't see how those pieces are coming together into any kind of coherent picture.

For one thing, I don't get the title of the book. The narrator of the book is a 7-year-old boy named Luke, and he and his parents live in an unpainted farmhouse with his parental grandparents. However, the disabled son of the migrant hillbillies who come to pick cotton on the farm starts to paint the house. Why? I think I get it that a painted house symbolizes more genteel living, and I think I understand that Luke's mother (who grew up in a painted house) wants to escape farm living. But I really don't understand why the disabled boy started painting the house in the first place. He's a very underdeveloped character, anyway, and to put him in charge of the action that gives the title to the book just seems, I don't know - weird.

Another of the hillbillies' sons, Hank, is a terrible bully. I won't go into everything he does because I don't want to give away any spoilers. I will say he gets in a conflict with one of the Mexican workers who is also on the farm to pick cotton. That conflict does not end well, but what brings it to a head is really the last thing I would have expected. Again, it's just kind of weird. It feels like there was a missed opportunity - there were some situations that could have led to that final conflict in a more dramatic way (for example, the Mexican and the bully's sister have been romancing when they were supposed to be picking cotton!), but those don't seem to play any role.

And then there is the dirt-poor sharecropper family that has a whole passel of children, including a 15-year-old daughter who claims Luke's uncle is the father of her surprise baby. That storyline took up a significant chunk of the center of the book, but it has more or less faded into the background as the end of the book draws near.

Honestly, I feel like I've dumped out all the pieces of the puzzle and now have to figure out how they go together with nothing more than a brief description of what  the story is about to help me. It hasn't been unpleasant; John Grisham's writing style flows nicely, and the pace of the story clips along (except when he's describing the baseball games - ugh). But it's just puzzling to me. Maybe if I keep plugging along for these last few chapters, all the pieces will suddenly fit into place and I'll see the big picture.


Ephemera said...

Have you read any of Grisham's other books? I was just curious to know how they compare to this one...if he does the same things with plot in all of his books.

Augustina Peach said...

It's been a long time, but I did read two other of his books - The Firm, and The Client. As I remember, those books had pretty tightly-focused plots. I enjoyed both of them.

Augustina Peach said...

Do you remember that puzzle? Did anyone ever work it?

Ephemera said...

I don't remember the puzzle. I remember boxes that had the "missing pieces" circled on the picture on top, but not the one with no picture at all!