In Ford County, John Grisham’s first collection of stories, we meet a weird and endearing group of misfits with one thing in common: each has lived in Clanton, the seat of fictional Ford County, Mississippi. There’s Sidney, a separated husband whose only solace comes in breaking the town’s casino; Gilbert, who enjoys exposing mistreatment at nursing homes; and Raymond, an inmate on death row who’s written a 200-page autobiography. We are privy to each of their twisted desires, and although we may not agree with all of these protagonists, we can sympathize with their individual plights: to escape from a dull existence; to give life a jolt; or, sometimes, just to survive.
Grisham’s prose is smooth and controlled as he deftly moves between narrators and storylines, and his skilled storytelling makes even the wackier scenes believable. One of Ford County’s greatest assets is its abundant but understated humor. When Calvin, a young virgin, hits a strip joint in Memphis en route to donating blood, the omniscient narrator comments dryly: “It was a life-changing experience. Calvin would never be the same.”
Predictably—and thankfully, since it’s what the author does best—there is no dearth of lawyers in this collection. Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was also set in Clanton, where “a town of ten thousand people provided enough conflict to support fifty-one lawyers.” Readers will enjoy getting sucked into this world of small-town corruption and Sonic drive-ins, kind-hearted neighbors and sleazy businessmen. And although there’s little doubt that Grisham will return to the thrillers that made him famous, here’s hoping that Ford County is the precursor of many collections to come.