In the Shadow of A Painted House

The book up for discussion at our book club meeting tonight is John Grisham’s A Painted House


Well, sort of yippee, and sort of sob…

For those of you who may not be famililar with this book, it is the account of a young boy–a would-be Cardinals baseball pro–who struggles through a hot Arkansas September on a cotton farm in 1952.  (Semi-autobiographical?  Hmmm~!)  Told through the innocent yet perceptive eyes of 7-year-old Luke, we see the pull of family, of poverty, of prejudice.  And we see the tenacity of hope.

Okay, here’s why this book strikes my heart–besides the fact that it spins a great tale, of course.  To a distrubing degree, it also parallels the tale of my own family.  My parents grew up just north of the Arkansas border, in the Ozark mountains of Missouri (or as my parents say, Missoura).  They, too, were dirt poor and fought with the land in order to survive.  Like Luke’s mother, my mom was a city girl. (Her family was from Kansas City, transplanted to the hills for my Granddad’s health.)  She, too, was born in a painted house.  Mom spoke city and she took piano lessons.  Not my dad’s family, though.  When my Grandma Marshall was with us and wanted us kids to get up in the morning, she would say, “Is you young’n’s still a-wallerin’ in the bedstead?”  My mom made gorgeous quilts that won ribbons at the fair for their beauty.  Grandma Marshall tore up the flour sacks and worn out clothes to piece her quilts together. Her only concern was that they protect her family from the icy winds of winter.

In The Painted House, Luke’s family finally gives up and heads for the auto factories of Flint, Michigan.  My mom and dad gave up on the hills as soon as they were married and headed for the Greyhound bus station. 

“We want two tickets away,” my would-be-parents said. 

“Where do you want to go?” the station master asked them. 

“As far away as we can get,”  they answered. 

The station master said, “Well, you can go west to California, but only as far as San Francisco.  After that you’ll be in the ocean.” 

“Two one-way tickets to San Francisco,” my folks said.

Which is why I was born and raised a hillbilly in the big city.  It was a great heritage, by the way.

I love opening a book and finding that, although the author doesn’t know I exist, it is about me!



“A drop-dead evocation of a time and place that mark this novel as a classic slice of Americana.”

Publishers Weekly, on A Painted House



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4 responses to “In the Shadow of A Painted House

  1. Kay, The Painted House is one of my favorite books, even though die-hard Grisham fans didn’t embrace it. I think it’s his best writing.

    And those Ozarkians? That was our family. Momma grew up in a dirt-floor cabin near Waynesville, MO, and I was born in Cuba, MO. Mom, Dad, and four of us kids moved into a silver 27-foot travel trailer when I was about 7 because Daddy had an itchy foot. It was always going to be better around the next bend. And maybe it was.

    Enjoy your discussion!


    • Barbara, I do believe we’re related! My parents are from Fordland, MO. And I must say, I think itchy feet goes with the territory. Before my parents settled their hearts in San Francisco, they spent some time as migrant workers, picking fruit and almonds in the rich fields of California–waiting for it to be better around the next bend.

      Thanks for coming by~


  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Kay. I loved “A Painted House” – one of Grisham’s best, for sure. My father-in-law grew up in similar circumstances. He read the book, and with tears said, “That’s my life.”

    My only criticism of the story was (you put it so diplomaticly)…”the innocent yet perceptive eyes of 7-year-old Luke.” Perhaps a bit too perceptive for a 7-year-old. Just my opinion. 🙂

    • I agree with you. In my mind, Luke was about nine, and it worked for me. Seven seemed too young for that character. (And it’s not just your opinion, by the way. My entire book club–many of whom are editors–agreed.)


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