"Sycamore Row,” by John Grisham, 2013
A white man is found hanging from a sycamore tree on his 160 acres near Clanton, Mississippi. He was in the last throes of painful terminal cancer. He’s prepared a new hand-written will, specific instructions on his funeral and burial, sold most of his assets, hired an attorney, made telephone calls, left a legible note and tied a really efficient knot. His new will leaves more than $24 million dollars to his black housekeeper and nurse, and nothing for his estranged white adult children.
|Southern Sycamore Tree|
Grisham has fashioned a sequel to his first book, “A Time to Kill,” (reviewed below) using the same crew of Mississippians. A hungry young trial attorney, his unexpected female paralegal and two boozy fellow-counsels as back-up – all working the town square of Clanton from the liberal side. Three years after the big trial in that book, Jake Brigance is still renting, mostly broke, still afraid of the Klan and waiting for the next big thing. And Jake gets it, as he’s selected as the attorney for the decedent’s will, an appointment he gets in the mail from a man he never knew. It is the biggest will contest in Ford County, and will make the housekeeper the wealthiest black person in the whole state if it flies.
Grisham used to live in Oxford, Mississippi, living in the long shadow of William Faulkner. Some of his characters are still caught reading Faulkner. Grisham, while no Faulkner, is a ‘genre’ writer who uses the same sense of place to put you in, not Yoknapatawpha County, but his Ford County. And in a way, the topic is the same – the original sin of the ‘South’ – slavery, Jim Crow and enduring racism. Maybe that is why there is so much religion in southern states – atonement is needed.
Left radicals know that institutional racism is not limited to the South. Yet the residual ‘nationalism’ of self-proclaimed ‘southern’ literature makes its own bed in that room again and again.
Grisham’s take on the legal profession hasn’t changed – full of greedy careerists, honest men, egoists or street-fighters, drunks or frauds. His liberal ideology says that pluck and truth will win out and that ‘equality before the law’ is real. Marxists point out that the existence of classes actually prevents real ‘equality before the law’ in most cases. The 'new' Jim Crow is not an accident. This book is somewhat like the movies we watch where the ‘good guys’ win. These stories are popular because it happens so rarely in real capitalist life, and it's why we read them. The placebo effect.
Jakes uses his local connections to the utmost to beat the out-of-town lawyers. Jake ear-wigs the judge, has a waitress spying for him in the local coffee-shop, considers the black sheriff of Ford County a good friend and ally. More importantly, he has two drunken attorney friends who are smarter than the white-collar lawyers from Jackson and Memphis. The book has some of the same melodramatic crunches that happened in “A Time to Kill,” but seems a bit more grounded and real. This book is a fitting sequel from the 'best of the legal genre' writer. I will not give away the mystery, but will only say that the morbid and progressive meaning of ‘Sycamore Row’ is fully revealed on the last page.
And I bought it at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, Netherlands
April 24, 2015