Review: John Grisham – Calico Joe

john-grisham-calico-joeWhen I saw this book on the book people, I was intrigued. I knew that Grisham was more of a legal writer – I know my dad had read a lot of his books. But the description said that it was completely different to those books, and of course the cover drew me in straight away.

Now I don’t know what his legal books are like, but this book was very emotional. The start was a little confusing with two seemingly unrelated stories running in parallel, but it quickly becomes clear how the stories are going to intercept, even while you are praying for it not to be so.

Joe Castle is a rookie phenom for the Chicago Cubs. He’s smashing records left, right and centre, hitting home runs, triples, stealing bases and inspiring the hearts of Cubs fans nationwide. He’s 8 year old Paul Tracy’s idol, Paul collects his pictures from the newspaper for his scrapbook and follows his fledgling career game by game. One fateful day in August, Castle comes up to bat against the Mets starting pitcher: a bitter, spiteful and over the hill pitcher, named Warren Tracy. Yep, that’s Paul’s father Warren Tracy. A man who only barely holds the title ‘father’, he’s abusive and distant and unfaithful.

In Castle’s first at bat, a prolonged affair with numerous foul balls, Castle hits yet another home run. As he’s rounding the bases, he gives himself a little fist bump. Nothing too fancy, and definitely not intended to show up the pitcher.

But Warren is cynical and claims to be from the ‘old school’. He doesn’t like this gesture, and decides that next time up, he’ll get his own back. Cut to the third inning and Warren throws two normal pitches. It looks like Castle may escape unscathed, but in the stands, Paul knows better. He turns to his mum and says “He’s going to hit him”. And he’s right. The next pitch, Warren throws as hard as he can, straight at Castle’s head. There’s a sound of crunching bone and Castle hits the floor. The ball hit him in the eye, missing his protective helmet and shattering his skull – a 95mph projectile to the head tends to have that effect.

Castle never recovers. His sight is damaged in that eye and the subsequent stroke that he had causes him to walk with a limp. He’s a recluse, no-one has talked to him in years, and he has spent his days as a groundskeeper for the high school baseball field in his hometown.

Meanwhile, a 38 year old Paul Tracy receives a call from his father, he’s dying from cancer. Paul hasn’t seen his dad regularly since that day 30 years ago, but he knows that there is something that he has to do. He wants to take his father to Calico Rock to meet Joe Castle and apologise for what he has always maintained was an accident. He knows that it will be a struggle to get his dad to agree, and it doesn’t go quite as planned.

I really loved this book. It was a perfect mix of thrilling baseball action and heart wrenching moments as Paul recollects the troubles from his past and the repercussions of his father’s actions.

All in all, a fantastic book, and has left me wanting to try some of his usual books.


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