A Painted House

( 541 )

Overview

Until that September of 1952, Luke Chandler had never kept a secret or told a single lie. But in the long, hot summer of his seventh year, two groups of migrant workers ? and two very dangerous men ? came through the Arkansas Delta to work the Chandler cotton farm. And suddenly mysteries are flooding Luke?s world.

A brutal murder leaves the town seething in gossip and suspicion. A beautiful young woman ignites forbidden passions. A fatherless baby is born ... and someone has ...

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Overview

Until that September of 1952, Luke Chandler had never kept a secret or told a single lie. But in the long, hot summer of his seventh year, two groups of migrant workers — and two very dangerous men — came through the Arkansas Delta to work the Chandler cotton farm. And suddenly mysteries are flooding Luke’s world.

A brutal murder leaves the town seething in gossip and suspicion. A beautiful young woman ignites forbidden passions. A fatherless baby is born ... and someone has begun furtively painting the bare clapboards of the Chandler farmhouse, slowly, painstakingly, bathing the run-down structure in gleaming white. And as young Luke watches the world around him, he unravels secrets that could shatter lives — and change his family and his town forever....

From the Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
John Grisham takes a break from penning edge-of-your-seat legal thrillers for his latest effort, a coming-of-age tale with a deceptively languid pace and a strong literary flavor. A Painted House, which Grisham first serialized in his magazine, The Oxford American, depicts the simple but hardscrabble life of an Arkansas farming family during the early '50s. Loosely based on experiences from Grisham's own childhood, this poignant story lacks the legal maneuvering and courtroom scuffles he is best known for. But there's plenty of tension just the same, an underlying, constant tension that stunningly mirrors the life of the story's point-of-view character, a seven-year-old boy named Luke Chandler.

Luke hates harvest time. Not only must he head out to the fields and pick cotton until his fingers bleed and his back aches, his cantankerous grandfather is even more irritable than usual, knowing that the success or failure of this year's crop may well determine the family's future. Plus, there is the invasion of migrant workers the family must hire to help pick the fields. This year, the workers consist of two groups: ten Mexicans who traveled north in the back of a cattle truck and the Spruills, one of the many hill families who come down from the Ozarks every fall to work the harvest.

Things start out smoothly enough, and the crop is a promising one. But signs of trouble soon appear. Hank, the Spruills' oldest son and one of the biggest men Luke has ever seen, is a walking time bomb of violence and anger. Then there's the Mexican known as Cowboy, as lean and mean as they come. The tension builds until these two indomitable forces inevitably clash, culminating in a shocking denouement that forces young Luke to deal with some very grown-up issues. And the worst is yet to come, for nature has a few things to throw at the Chandler family, as well.

Grisham's portrayal of one young boy's rude awakening to the harsh realities of life is, at turns, heartwarming and heartbreaking. The tension is subtle but constant, with undercurrents that build toward a crescendo of explosive emotion. Parts of the story are grim, and the struggles often seem endless. But at the heart of it all is the essence of the human spirit and the story of one family's ability to love and survive in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Contributing editor Beth Amos is the author of three novels, including Cold White Fury and Second Sight.

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

From the Paperback edition.

Entertainment Weekly
He 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....The kind of book you read slowly because you don't want it to end.
From The Critics
This year, Grisham, the reigning king of the legal thriller, has veered from his usual course to write a heartbreaking and captivating coming-of-age novel. The book, which draws on Grisham's own childhood experiences, is set in the fall of 1952 and tells the tale of Lucas Chandler, the seven-year-old son of Arkansas cotton farmers. This season, the Chandlers are desperate to reap a bountiful harvest, which depends not only on the weather but also on the hard-working Mexican laborers who provide temporary help. While this book displays a markedly different, old-fashioned quality, fans of the author's thrillers will be pleased to find constant undercurrents of tension as Lucas uncovers the farm's many secrets. Actor David Lansbury, accompanied by a Southern drawl, captures the innocence and awe of the young narrator. Though a couple of the minor characters are over the top, Lansbury often does a superb job of creating colorful personalities.
—Rochelle O'Gorman

(Excerpted Review)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Who needs lawyers? Not Grisham, in his captivating new novel, now between hardcovers after serialization in the Oxford American. Here there are hardscrabble farmers instead, and dirt-poor itinerant workers and a seven-year-old boy who grows up fast in a story as rich in conflict and incident as any previous Grisham and as nuanced as his very best. It's September 1952 in rural Arkansas when young narrator Luke Chandler notes that "the hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day." These folk are in Black Oak for the annual harvest of the cotton grown on the 80 acres that the Chandlers rent. The three generations of the Chandler family treat their workers more kindly than most farmers do, including engaging in the local obsession--playing baseball--with them, but serious trouble arises among the harvesters nonetheless. Most of it centers around Hank Spruill, a giant hillbilly with an equally massive temper, who one night in town beats a man dead and who throughout the book rubs up against a knife-wielding Mexican who is dating Hank's 17-year-old sister on the sly, leading to another murder. In fact, there's a mess of trouble in Luke's life, from worries about his uncle Ricky fighting in Korea to concerns about the nearby Latcher family and its illegitimate newborn baby, who may be Ricky's son. And then there are the constant fears about the weather, as much a character in this novel as any human, from the tornado that storms past the farm to the downpours that eventually flood the fields, ruining the crop and washing Luke and his family into a new life. Grisham admirers know that this author's writing has evolved with nearly every book, from the simple mechanics that made The Firm click to the manifestations of grace that made The Testament such a fine novel of spiritual reckoning. The mechanics are still visible here--as a nosy, spying boy, Luke serves as a nearly omnipresent eye to spur the novel along its course--but so, too, are 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. Agent, David Gernert. (One-day laydown, Feb. 6) FORECAST: Will Grisham's fans miss the lawyers? Not hardly. This is a Grisham novel all the way, despite its surface departures from the legal thrillers, and it will be received as such, justifying the 2.8-million first printing. (For more on Grisham, see Book News, p. 178) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Cotton and baseball fill the life of seven-year-old Luke Chandler, but in the harvest season of 1952, his world is transformed by a series of secrets. The promise of 80 acres of a good crop necessitates the hiring of Mexican migrant workers and the Sproul family from the Ozarks to help pick the cotton. As narrator, Luke provides a child's-eye view of innocence, wonder, and confusion that is also rich with hopes for his beloved St. Louis Cardinals and overwhelmed by row after row of cotton. Grisham here leaves his familiar genre to create a powerfully touching family story that David Lansbury's narration captures perfectly. There's not a lawyer in sight, but Grisham fans should be pleased with the well-defined characters and conflicts. Highly recommended. Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This simple tale of cotton harvesting in 1952 Arkansas offers the curious a chance to see what Grisham would be like without all the lawyers. Now that the weather's been suspiciously clement all season, Luke Chandler's father is looking for temporary labor to pick the 80 acres of cotton his family rents. He finds a hill family, the Spruills, who promptly pitch camp on Luke's baseball diamond in the front yard, and ten migrant Mexicans who all set to picking alongside the Chandlers. As the days grow shorter, Luke's dreams of moving to St. Louis and playing for the Cardinals are nurtured by Stan Musial's run at the batting title, and he prays his big brother Ricky will come home safely and soon from Korea and worries that he'll get beaten for all manner of infractions. Meanwhile, hulking Hank Spruill wades into a street brawl and leaves a man dead; his sister Tally takes up with one of the Mexican pickers; their younger brother Trot, whose withered arm keeps him from picking much cotton, gets the fantastical idea of painting the Chandlers' weathered house. As the improbable repository of the family secrets, Luke watches the episodic season unfold, but knows he can't say anything against the Spruills—not even the dangerous Hank—because trouble for any of them would chase the rest of them away, and his father needs every picker he can get. So the families drift along in a quietly uneasy alliance till the inevitable climax-still another moment Luke will have to keep secret. What's Grisham like sans lawyers? Leisurely and sentimental, a little like The Cider House Rules, The Human Comedy, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and presumably a lot more like his own Arkansaschildhood—yet not all that much different in this coming-of-age story from A Time to Kill, The Firm, and all those other tales of grown-up naïfs in three-piece suits.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385337939
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/3/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 634,099
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

John Grisham is the author of The Brethren, The Testament, The Street Lawyer, The Partner, The Runaway Jury, The Rainmaker, The Chamber, The Client, The Pelican Brief, The Firm, and A Time to Kill.

From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

As a young boy in Arkansas, John Grisham dreamed of being a baseball player. Fortunately for his millions of fans, that career didn't pan out. His family moved to Mississippi in 1967, where Grisham eventually received a law degree from Ole Miss and established a practice in Southaven for criminal and civil law. In 1983, Grisham was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives, where he served until 1990.

While working as an attorney, Grisham witnessed emotional testimony from the case of a young girl's rape. Naturally inquisitive, Grisham's mind started to wander: what if the terrible crime yielded an equally terrible revenge? These questions of right and wrong were the subject of his first novel, A Time to Kill (1988), written in the stolen moments before and between court appearances. The book wasn't widely distributed, but his next title would be the one to bring him to the national spotlight. The day after he finished A Time to Kill, Grisham began work on The Firm (1991), the story of a whiz kid attorney who joins a crooked law firm. The book was an instant hit, spent 47 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, and was made into a movie starring Tom Cruise.

With the success of The Firm, Grisham resigned from the Mississippi House of Representatives to focus exclusively on his writing. What followed was a string of bestselling legal thrillers that demonstrated the author's uncanny ability to capture the unique drama of the courtroom. Several of his novels were turned into blockbuster movies.

In 1996, Grisham returned to his law practice for one last case, honoring a promise he had made before his retirement. He represented the family of a railroad worker who was killed on the job, the case went to trial, and Grisham won the largest verdict of his career when the family was awarded more than $650,000.

Although he is best known for his legal thrillers, Grisham has ventured outside the genre with several well-received novels (A Painted House, Bleachers, et al) and an earnest and compelling nonfiction account of small-town justice gone terribly wrong (The Innocent Man). The popularity of these stand-alones proves that Grisham is no mere one-trick pony but a gifted writer with real "legs."

Good To Know

A prolific writer, it takes Grisham an average of six months to complete a novel.

Grisham has the right to approve or reject whoever is cast in movies based on his books. He has even written two screenplays himself: Mickey and The Gingerbread Man.

Baseball is one of Grisham's great loves. He serves as the local Little League commissioner and has six baseball diamonds on his property, where he hosts games.

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    1. Hometown:
      Oxford, Mississippi, and Albemarle County, Virginia
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 8, 1955
    2. Place of Birth:
      Jonesboro, Arkansas
    1. Education:
      B.S., Mississippi State, 1977; J.D., University of Mississippi, 1981
    2. Website:

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.

On the right, at the Jordan place, we saw a group of Mexicans working in the field near the road. They were stooped at the waist, their cotton sacks draped behind them, their hands moving deftly through the stalks, tearing off the bolls. Pappy grunted. He didn’t like the Jordans because they were Methodists — and Cubs fans. Now that they already had workers in their fields, there was another reason to dislike them.

The distance from our farm to town was fewer than eight miles, but at thirty-seven miles an hour, the trip took twenty minutes. Always twenty minutes, even with little traffic. Pappy didn’t believe in passing slower vehicles in front of him. Of course, he was usually the slow one.

Near Black Oak, we caught up to a trailer filled to the top with snowy mounds of freshly picked cotton. A tarp covered the front half, and the Montgomery twins, who were my age, playfully bounced around in all that cotton until they saw us on the road below them. Then they stopped and waved. I waved back, but my grandfather did not. When he drove, he never waved or nodded at folks, and this was, my mother said, because he was afraid to take his hands from the wheel. She said people talked about him behind his back, saying he was rude and arrogant. Personally, I don’t think he cared how the gossip ran.

We followed the Montgomery trailer until it turned at the cotton gin. It was pulled by their old Massey Harris tractor, and driven by Frank, the eldest Montgomery boy, who had dropped out of school in the fifth grade and was considered by everyone at church to be headed for serious trouble.

Highway 135 became Main Street for the short stretch it took to negotiate Black Oak. We passed the Black Oak Baptist Church, one of the few times we’d pass without stopping for some type of service. Every store, shop, business, church, even the school, faced Main Street, and on Saturdays the traffic inched along, bumper to bumper, as the country folks flocked to town for their weekly shopping. But it was Wednesday, and when we got into town, we parked in front of Pop and Pearl Watson’s grocery store on Main.

I waited on the sidewalk until my grandfather nodded in the direction of the store. That was my cue to go inside and purchase a Tootsie Roll, on credit. It only cost a penny, but it was not a foregone conclusion that I would get one every trip to town. Occasionally, he wouldn’t nod, but I would enter the store anyway and loiter around the cash register long enough for Pearl to sneak me one, which always came with strict instructions not to tell my grandfather. She was afraid of him. Eli Chandler was a poor man, but he was intensely proud. He would starve to death before he took free food, which, on his list, included Tootsie Rolls. He would’ve beaten me with a stick if he knew I had accepted a piece of candy, so Pearl Watson had no trouble swearing me to secrecy.

But this time I got the nod. As always, Pearl was dusting the counter when I entered and gave her a stiff hug. Then I grabbed a Tootsie Roll from the jar next to the cash register. I signed the charge slip with great flair, and Pearl inspected my penmanship. “It’s getting better, Luke,” she said.

“Not bad for a seven-year-old,” I said. Because of my mother, I had been practicing my name in cursive writing for two years. “Where’s Pop?” I asked. They were the only adults I knew who insisted I call them by their “first” names, but only in the store when no one else was listening. If a customer walked in, then it was suddenly Mr. and Mrs. Watson. I told no one but my mother this, and she told me she was certain no other child held such privilege.

“In the back, putting up stock,” Pearl said. “Where’s your grandfather?”

It was Pearl’s calling in life to monitor the movements of the town’s population, so any question was usually answered with another.

“The Tea Shoppe, checking on the Mexicans. Can I go back there?” I was determined to outquestion her.

“Better not. Y’all using hill people, too?”
“If we can find them. Eli says they don’t come down like they used to. He also thinks they’re all half crazy. Where’s Champ?” Champ was the store’s ancient beagle, which never left Pop’s side.

Pearl grinned whenever I called my grandfather by his first name. She was about to ask me a question when the small bell clanged as the door opened and closed. A genuine Mexican walked in, alone and timid, as they all seemed to be at first. Pearl nodded politely at the new customer.

I shouted, “Buenos días, señor!

The Mexican grinned and said sheepishly, “Buenos días,” before disappearing into the back of the store.

“They’re good people,” Pearl said under her breath, as if the Mexican spoke English and might be offended by something nice she said. I bit into my Tootsie Roll and chewed it slowly while rewrapping and pocketing the other half.

“Eli’s worried about payin’ them too much,” I said. With a customer in the store, Pearl was suddenly busy again, dusting and straightening around the only cash register.

“Eli worries about everything,” she said.

“He’s a farmer.”

“Are you going to be a farmer?”

“No ma’am. A baseball player.”

“For the Cardinals?”

“Of course.”

Pearl hummed for a bit while I waited for the Mexican. I had some more Spanish I was anxious to try.

The old wooden shelves were bursting with fresh groceries. I loved the store during picking season because Pop filled it from floor to ceiling. The crops were coming in, and money was changing hands.

Pappy opened the door just wide enough to stick his head in. “Let’s go,” he said; then, “Howdy, Pearl.”

“Howdy, Eli,” she said as she patted my head and sent me away.

“Where are the Mexicans?” I asked Pappy when we were outside.

“Should be in later this afternoon.”

We got back in the truck and left town in the direction of Jonesboro, where my grandfather always found the hill people.

We parked on the shoulder of the highway, near the intersection of a gravel road. In Pappy’s opinion, it was the best spot in the county to catch the hill people. I wasn’t so sure. He’d been trying to hire some for a week with no results. We sat on the tailgate in the scorching sun in complete silence for half an hour before the first truck stopped. It was clean and had good tires. If we were lucky enough to find hill people, they would live with us for the next two months. We wanted folks who were neat, and the fact that this truck was much nicer than Pappy’s was a good sign.

“Afternoon,” Pappy said when the engine was turned off.

“Howdy,” said the driver.

“Where y’all from?” asked Pappy.

“Up north of Hardy.”

With no traffic around, my grandfather stood on the pavement, a pleasant expression on his face, taking in the truck and its contents. The driver and his wife sat in the cab with a small girl between them. Three large teenaged boys were napping in the back. Everyone appeared to be healthy and well dressed. I could tell Pappy wanted these people.

“Y’all lookin’ for work?” he asked.

“Yep. Lookin’ for Lloyd Crenshaw, somewhere west of Black Oak.”

My grandfather pointed this way and that, and they drove off. We watched them until they were out of sight.

He could’ve offered them more than Mr. Crenshaw was promising. Hill people were notorious for negotiating their labor. Last year, in the middle of the first picking on our place, the Fulbrights from Calico Rock disappeared one Sunday night and went to work for a farmer ten miles away. But Pappy was not dishonest, nor did he want to start a bidding war.

We tossed a baseball along the edge of a cotton field, stopping whenever a truck approached.

My glove was a Rawlings that Santa had delivered the Christmas before. I slept with it nightly and oiled it weekly, and nothing was as dear to my soul.

My grandfather, who had taught me how to throw and catch and hit, didn’t need a glove. His large, callused hands absorbed my throws without the slightest sting.

Though he was a quiet man who never bragged, Eli Chandler had been a legendary baseball player. At the age of seventeen, he had signed a contract with the Cardinals to play professional baseball. But the First War called him, and not long after he came home, his father died. Pappy had no choice but to become a farmer.

Pop Watson loved to tell me stories of how great Eli Chandler had been — how far he could hit a baseball, how hard he could throw one.

“Probably the greatest ever from Arkansas,” was Pop’s assessment.

“Better than Dizzy Dean?” I would ask.

“Not even close,” Pop would say, sighing.

When I relayed these stories to my mother, she always smiled and said, “Be careful. Pop tells tales.”

Pappy, who was rubbing the baseball in his mammoth hands, cocked his head at the sound of a vehicle. Coming from the west was a truck with a trailer behind it. From a quarter of a mile away we could tell they were hill people. We walked to the shoulder of the road and waited as the driver downshifted, gears crunching and whining as he brought the truck to a stop.

I counted seven heads, five in the truck, two in the trailer.

“Howdy,” the driver said slowly, sizing up my grandfather as we in turn quickly scrutinized them.

“Good afternoon,” Pappy said, taking a step closer but still keeping his distance.

Tobacco juice lined the lower lip of the driver. This was an ominous sign. My mother thought most hill people were prone to bad hygiene and bad habits. Tobacco and alcohol were forbidden in our home. We were Baptists.

“Name’s Spruill,” he said.

“Eli Chandler. Nice to meet you. Y’all lookin’ for work?”

“Yep.”

“Where you from?”

“Eureka Springs.”

The truck was almost as old as Pappy’s, with slick tires and a cracked windshield and rusted fenders and what looked like faded blue paint under a layer of dust. A tier had been constructed above the bed, and it was crammed with cardboard boxes and burlap bags filled with supplies. Under it, on the floor of the bed, a mattress was wedged next to the cab. Two large boys stood on it, both staring blankly at me. Sitting on the tailgate, barefoot and shirtless, was a heavy young man with massive shoulders and a neck as thick as a stump. He spat tobacco juice between the truck and the trailer and seemed oblivious to Pappy and me. He swung his feet slowly, then spat again, never looking away from the asphalt beneath him.

“I’m lookin’ for field hands,” Pappy said.

“How much you payin’?” Mr. Spruill asked.

“One-sixty a hundred,” Pappy said.

Mr. Spruill frowned and looked at the woman beside him. They mumbled something.

It was at this point in the ritual that quick decisions had to be made. We had to decide whether we wanted these people living with us. And they had to accept or reject our price.

“What kinda cotton?” Mr. Spruill asked.

“Stoneville,” my grandfather said. “The bolls are ready. It’ll be easy to pick.” Mr. Spruill could look around him and see the bolls bursting. The sun and soil and rains had cooperated so far. Pappy, of course, had been fretting over some dire rainfall prediction in the Farmers’ Almanac.

“We got one-sixty last year,” Mr. Spruill said.

I didn’t care for money talk, so I ambled along the center line to inspect the trailer. The tires on the trailer were even balder than those on the truck. One was half flat from the load. It was a good thing that their journey was almost over.

Rising in one corner of the trailer, with her elbows resting on the plank siding, was a very pretty girl. She had dark hair pulled tightly behind her head and big brown eyes. She was younger than my mother, but certainly a lot older than I was, and I couldn’t help but stare.

“What’s your name?” she said.

“Luke,” I said, kicking a rock. My cheeks were immediately warm.
“What’s yours?”

“Tally. How old are you?”

“Seven. How old are you?”

“Seventeen.”

“How long you been ridin’ in that trailer?”

“Day and a half.”

She was barefoot, and her dress was dirty and very tight — tight all the way to her knees. This was the first time I remember really examining a girl. She watched me with a knowing smile. A kid sat on a crate next to her with his back to me, and he slowly turned around and looked at me as if I weren’t there. He had green eyes and a long forehead covered with sticky black hair. His left arm appeared to be useless.

“This is Trot,” she said. “He ain’t right.”

“Nice to meet you, Trot,” I said, but his eyes looked away. He acted as if he hadn’t heard me.

“How old is he?” I asked her.

“Twelve. He’s a cripple.”

Trot turned abruptly to face a corner, his bad arm flopping lifelessly. My friend Dewayne said that hill people married their cousins and that’s why there were so many defects in their families.

Tally appeared to be perfect, though. She gazed thoughtfully across the cotton fields, and I admired her dirty dress once again.

I knew my grandfather and Mr. Spruill had come to terms because Mr. Spruill started his truck. I walked past the trailer, past the man on the tailgate who was briefly awake but still staring at the pavement, and stood beside Pappy. “Nine miles that way, take a left by a burned-out barn, then six more miles to the St. Francis River. We’re the first farm past the river on your left.”

“Bottomland?” Mr. Spruill asked, as if he were being sent into a swamp.

“Some of it is, but it’s good land.”

Mr. Spruill glanced at his wife again, then looked back at us. “Where do we set up?”

“You’ll see a shady spot in the back, next to the silo. That’s the best place.”

We watched them drive away, the gears rattling, the tires wobbling, crates and boxes and pots bouncing along.

“You don’t like them, do you?” I asked.

“They’re good folks. They’re just different.”

“I guess we’re lucky to have them, aren’t we?”

“Yes, we are.”

More field hands meant less cotton for me to pick. For the next month I would go to the fields at sunrise, drape a nine-foot cotton sack over my shoulder, and stare for a moment at an endless row of cotton, the stalks taller than I was, then plunge into them, lost as far as anyone could tell. And I would pick cotton, tearing the fluffy bolls from the stalks at a steady pace, stuffing them into the heavy sack, afraid to look down the row and be reminded of how endless it was, afraid to slow down because someone would notice. My fingers would bleed, my neck would burn, my back would hurt.

Yes, I wanted lots of help in the fields. Lots of hill people, lots of Mexicans.

From the Paperback edition.

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Introduction

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.

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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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Interviews & Essays

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

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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.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 541 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(290)

4 Star

(135)

3 Star

(55)

2 Star

(37)

1 Star

(24)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 541 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2007

    Amazing!!!

    I personally loved this book and thought that it was very well written. I couldn't put it down and I felt that it was exciting to the last page. I hope that John Grisham makes a sequal because I am very anxious to read the continuation of this story.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2007

    6th grade

    When I borrowed this book during a free period in sixth grade from a friend, I never thought it would soon become one of my favorite books. It held my eleven year old attention through to the end, and now a junior, I reread it regularly.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2006

    Great Book

    i had to read this for required reading but it turned out to be a good book! I enjoyed it alot and i found it hard to put down.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2014

    Not as good as his legal mysteries. The story was well told, but

    Not as good as his legal mysteries. The story was well told, but I could not get into this book as much as I did his others. I look forward to his legal mysteries.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2011

    Great story!

    I loved this book!.. I wish John Grisham would write another story to continue the story on!.. Overall it is a very good book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    Great read!

    I always enjoy a Grifsham book. This was a great book to get away from the lawyer like stuff he normally writes. I wasnt able to put this one down!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 12, 2011

    I loved Little Luke!

    At first I didn't think that I wanted to read this, but Luke is a great charater. One favorite parts is where his cousins new wife Stacy in the outhouse...and another is where Luke, his parents and the secret baby are running (driving) through town ducking Mrs. Pearl...I litterallly laughed out loud at these and a lot of other parts. This is a great story of a little boy tryin' to be good. If you have sons,, grandsons, nephews, you will love this little seven year old boy! I do and will recommend it to all.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Recommended

    good book... it was left a little open though at the end.... there wasn't much closure... oh and the back of the book is REALLY off topic...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2007

    A reviewer

    I did like a Painted House. It had a good storyline to it that always kept you interested. Taking place in the 1950's it told a lot about rural life in Arkansas and how people lived. Also the use of hired workers was very interesting. They used migrant workers either from Mexico or the 'Hills' and tried treating them as good as possible. I would recommend the book for others to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2006

    A really good one

    I selected 'A painted House' from among the novels my friend had, a few days back when I had some free time, just after looking at the author's name. And I should say John Grisham in no way disappointed me. I liked the characters, the way in which the farmers' life and the rural environment at that time are depicted and the elegancy with which the story was told. I could not put the book aside till the end. But, I strongly feel that the climax could have been better, rather I should say complete. What happened to Ricky, Luke's grand parents and Latchers, who were left behind by Luke and his Parents. Just as Luke steps into the outside world, the story abruptly ends leaving the readers' imagination block. Certainly, with a little emotional depth, a slower pace and more details at the end -- all these needing a bit more work and requiring a few more pages by the author, the book would have been complete... Mr. John Grisham....I am such a big fan of yours and you leave me in the bus speeding along, going north...where's my destination? Awaiting a sequel....

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2006

    A Good Book For You

    The book was amazing. The book really gives you a good look on what people went through during those time. The book made me think about how good I have it compared to the migrant worker and the kids at the time. The kid didn¿t have a choice but to have farm work before school. I recommend this book for all ages because people really should take the time stop and think about how good the have it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2004

    very very draggy

    love john grisham but could not handle this book was always waiting for the story to pick up but never did.....

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2003

    who wrote this?!?!?!

    i've read all of john grisham's books and loved them all. a painted house was a total waste of time, money, paper and ink. ok, so it was not the usual grisham book but the story was just too boring with too many loose ends. i should've believed those 1- and 2-star reviews.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2003

    Looking for a good book?

    Have you been looking for a good book to read, and have has the time. But not sure what to read? Check out ¿A Painted House¿ by John Grisham. This book takes place in the early 1950¿s, where farming cotton and picking cotton was popular. It starts out really slow with Pap and Father looking for workers to pick the cotton. Once they get their workers, and start to work suspicious things start to happen. No one knows who is doing it but it is happening and they want to get to the bottom of it. They start out Saturday going to the gin in town to get there cotton weighed, so they can get paid. Everyone who wants to go to town has the choice. In town they do there shopping for the upcoming week. They get all the food and personal items that they need. Then they get to go to a matinee, which if the only way out of the house until the following Saturday. During the week all they do is pick cotton, but not Luke Chandler. He is the main character, the grandson of the owner of the cotton farm. He sometimes has the job of helping his mother in the garden, picking and canning vegetables for the winter. When he is out in the cotton field he likes to try and work as far away from everyone else as possible. That way he does not have to do as much work. He tries to avoid trouble as much as he can. Luke knows things that no one else would know. He finds things out, that he is not supposed to know and does things that he is not suppose to. He knows everything from the suspicious baby, to who murdered Hank. His life is in danger in parts of the book, and he gets threatened for what he does know. But in the end it turns out to be an American dream life, a good one for the 1950¿s. This book was awesome, it does go slow in the beginning and you may not want to finish it once you start it. That is the way that it was for me. But I had to read it for a class and a lot of my classmates that had read it recommended it. I do not regret taking the time at all. It was well worth it. I think that if you like books that when something bad is happening or about to happen and you do not want to put the book down because it is getting so good. So you just want to keep reading. Well after about the first four chapters that is how it is. Starts out slow then speeds up. I would recommend this book to anyone that like a little mystery in his or her reading. But at the same time the book sticks to its main subject. Or another works to anyone. I loved this book and would read it again at any time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2001

    A Waste of Time and Money

    I knew this book would be unlike Grisham's other works but I didn't expect it to be so boring, repetitive and elementary. Told through the eyes of a seven year old, it seemed more as if a child wrote it. Weather, baseball and puritan poverty continues page after page. With each chapter I continued to hope that some interesting would happen. What a true disappointment.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2000

    Truly Worth Reading,

    I too followed this in Oxford Magazine. Month by month I could hardly wait for the next issue to reveal the latest chapters. John Grisham once again drew from his excellent ability to draw a reader into the characters and story line. Toward the end I found myself understanding the characters enough to know how they would feel about unfolding events before the story moved there. Any complaint I have would be about the ending, it seemed to abrupt when there was much more fodder to be uncovered. My top four Grisham favs are now, 'A Time to Kill', 'The Firm', 'The Pelican Brief' and now 'A Painted House'.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2014

    Kris

    Anyone still on

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2014

    Kevin

    Walks in

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2014

    Julia

    Waits

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2014

    Hey good

    Really good

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 541 Customer Reviews

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