Calico Joe is a novel by John Grisham. I had to keep flipping the book to the front cover to remind myself of that. No matter how much truth is blended into the story, the fact remains that the book is a novel. The book is probably one that I never would have picked up on my own, but my buddy Jordan purchased me a copy and gave it to me to read, lauding it as a good story. Not wanting to put Jordan off for too long, I picked up the short book and started as soon as I finished what I had been reading.
Calico Joe is, on the surface, a story about baseball. Joe Castle was an up-and-coming baseball star, shattering records and making fans all across the nation. Paul Tracey, at eleven years old, was obsessed with the game. His dad, Warren Tracey, was a pitcher for the New York Mets, and from an early age Paul loved the game. But Warren was a lousy father, often drunk and abusive and critical of everything. Paul loved his dad but hated him, and this is the true crux of the novel.
The book is formatted into a memoir style. One chapter is present day, with an odd first-person-limited view being told in present tense action. Paul is older now, married with children. The next chapter is a flashback to mid-century America, past tense jarringly obvious. This format works, though I did find its methodology peculiar. Regardless, the presentation accomplishes the story Grisham is telling.
The action here is subdued, with a foreseeable climax and a lengthy denouement that’s entirely appropriate. The mood is tragic—Paul’s childhood was terrible—but the Reader is never all-out distraught. The story is remarkably simple, but it’s also very accessible. Grisham tends to do this well, writing prose that hooks the Reader on. (Maybe that’s why I read pretty much all of his novels in middle and high school?)
I enjoyed Calico Joe. As I’ve already stated, it was a simple story, but its simplicity made it effective. The book is especially recommended for folks with daddy issues, or also for people that like reading “coming of age” books. Baseball fans will undoubtedly love Calico Joe, although I suspect that hardcore fanatics may jump at some of the liberties Grisham took. Overall, Calico Joe is a quick read. The book handles the familiar themes of love, forgiveness, and death reasonably well, making an impact as much as to be expected by a popular fiction author. If you want a summer read that’s appropriate for all sorts of Americana, check out John Grisham’s Calico Joe.