Grisham, John: Gray Mountain (2014)

Hello and welcome back to what seems to have turned into a serial author deflowering.

After my last two posts covered Stephen King, John Grisham is next on my list. What he and Stephen King have in common is that John Grisham is also one of those writers whom most people have heard of and whose name and the associated writing style / subject matter is sometimes used descriptively. What do I mean by that? Have you ever come across such phrases as “This is not a *insert author here* novel” / “I feel like I’m stuck in a *insert author here* novel”? I feel like both Stephen King and John Grisham have a reputation that allows even those who never picked up a single novel written by these authors to understand the above statements.

But I’m getting massively off-topic here. Sorry about that. Let’s talk about Gray Mountain without further ado.

As I said, I never read anything by John Grisham before. His style of writing as well as the subject matter of his novel is quite unlike anything I’ve encountered before, which made Gray Mountain a very interesting read.

Gray Mountain tells the story of Samantha, a young lawyer, who loses her job during the recent financial crisis. She is let go with the promise that she might be reinstated after a year – given that the recession is under control by then and that things have somewhat cooled down. While she waits to maybe someday get her job back, Samantha decides to volunteer in a small legal clinic in Appalachia.

Upon arriving, Samantha quickly realises that life out there doesn’t have anything to do with life as she knows it. She’s accustomed to living in a big city, working for big corporations, earning big money, and spending it in all the various ways the big city offers. In Appalachia, she works for a legal clinic that represents poor clients who can’t afford to pay for a lawyer. She doesn’t earn any money and being the rural area it is, Appalachia offers no possibilities for pleasant diversions that could momentarily turn her attention away from the misery she is faced with every day.

Most of that misery is in some way or other generated by big coal companies that ravish the land without any regard for the environment and the people who have to keep living in the area after the land was destroyed by strip mining.

Have you heard of strip mining before? I hadn’t. But a little bit of research informed me that it’s a real life problem the people of Appalachia are faced with:

The part of the novel that deals with this extremely exploitive concept was very interesting, incredibly informative and still well interwoven with the rest of the story. I never felt like I was being hit over the head with necessary but boring exposition because there were personal stories attached to the bare facts that made everything very touching and relatable.

During the course of the novel Samantha meets more and more people who were in some way affected by the coal companies’ hanky-panky. Some lost family members in horrible accidents, others were incurably ill because of continuously inhaling coal dust, and yet others were fighting a losing battle against cancers that were caused by the coal companies’ ignorance and carelessness.

These parts of the novel felt like a very realistic portrayal of human suffering, as the individual fates were described in some detail but with little sentimentality. It is interesting to see the difference in reaction between Samantha, who is new in the area and greatly affected by everything she sees and hears, and her colleagues at the legal clinic, who’ve been working in the field long enough to have seen it all.

The way death was dealt with in the novel is especially shocking because John Grisham does neither beat around the bush, nor does he seem have a problem with killing off characters. The body count wasn’t that high, mind you, but some of the deaths really took me by surprise.

The ending of the novel seemed just as realistic as Grisham’s descriptions of human agony: it leaves a lot to be desired – closure for example. I was astonished when I realised that the last page I just read was actually the last page of the book, because it just felt so unfinished. I’d been curious to see how Grisham would bring his novel to a close after he set up a situation that could barely be resolved and led into a believable happy ending without losing all it’s plausibility. The answer to that is: he doesn’t. Just like all real life stories, Gray Mountain does not have a clear cut fairy tale ending and I think I like that about it after I overcame my initial disappointment.

Have you read Gray Mountain / any other of Grisham’s novels? Any thoughts?

Ambivalent / open endings – yay or nay?

Name one famous author you still need to deflower. 

If your life was a novel – who’d be the author? 🙂


8 thoughts on “Grisham, John: Gray Mountain (2014)

    1. Interesting! The turning into a giant insect variety or one where you’re carrying around loads of forms to various obscure places? No, wait, I figured it out – it’s a podcast thing, right? Are you re-reading The Trial?


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