Sunday, May 27, 2012

John Grisham's Calico Rock, Arkansas?

Calico Rock on White River

Of all the unexpected book reviews to peruse, I never expected one about a John Grisham novel to focus on Calico Rock, Arkansas! The last time the 'Rock' got that much attention was when it served as the background to Bootleggers, a film -- not very good -- from my high school days in the early 1970s that proved popular in the Ozarks due to being set in that tiny Ozark town.

Well, the book review is of Grisham's Calico Joe and is written by Los Angeles Times reviewer Chris Erskine, "'Calico Joe' by John Grisham hits for average" (May 19, 2012), a review title hinting that the book isn't great. At any rate, here's the core of the review, the Calico Rock part:
"Calico Joe" is the first-person account of a fictionalized beaning of a Chicago Cubs prodigy by the name of Joe Castle, by way of Calico Rock, Ark. After being called up suddenly by the Cubs, Castle, soon dubbed "Calico Joe," gets off to a roaring start. After 11 games, he has 12 home runs and 14 stolen bases. He's hitting a ridiculous .725 and leading the Cubs to first place in their division (an accomplishment almost as remarkable as a .725 average). The baseball world believes it may be witnessing the next Ty Cobb. Or perhaps his better.

His story is told by Paul Tracey, son of Warren, a head-hunting power pitcher for the New York Mets who has more losses than wins and more anger than talent. Warren Tracey would be the one to end Joe Castle's career. While a young Paul watches in the stands, Warren aims a fastball at the head of Paul's boyhood hero, sending him into a coma and to the brink of death. In 1973, the storied career of Joe Castle comes to a tragic close after a mere 38 games.

Warren claims the bean ball was unintentional. Paul, a longtime victim of his abusive father's hate-filled tactics, knows better.

Jump ahead almost four decades and Joe Castle is a barely functional high school groundskeeper back in his hometown of Calico Rock; Warren Tracey is dying of cancer. Paul's dream/goal is to see his father apologize to Castle before he dies, an idea that the gruff old former ballplayer scoffs at.

In vintage Grisham fashion -- few authors can build to a crescendo the way he does -- the story picks up pace. Without revealing a rather satisfying ending, he plays good notes on the power of forgiveness, for the son, the dying pitcher and Calico Joe himself.

Oddly, this rather positive core of the review doesn't seem to fit the review's title. No matter. I'll probably never read the book. No time. It interested me because Calico Rock is in the area where the Cherokee side of my family settled after the Trail of Tears, just upstream from Sylamore, the part of the White River Hills near where resided my part-Cherokee grandmother's Cherokee aunt, Mary Black, who lived in the Sylamore Hills around 1910 in a log cabin without a floor, and who still sat cross-legged on the hard dirt and had jet-black hair at 70, or so my grandma told me.

I credit the LA Times for this review, but I actually read it in this weekend's Korea Herald . . . of all places to find a reference to Calico Rock, for which we can credit the effective fact of Grisham's fame and the circumstantial fact that he hails from Arkansas.

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At 9:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, a slice of home! I have stood upon that very bluff over the White River several times. The "Calico Bluffs" are stunningly beautiful. Especially in the Spring and Fall. I did not realize Grisham's new book had origins from Calico Rock. Will have to get it soon.


At 3:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Let us know if it's worth reading.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:46 AM, Blogger Lee Pozzi Rush said...

Reading it now and loving it. Did not know that Calico Rock was a real place until I googled it. Enjoy!

At 4:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Ms. Rush, for the comment. I hope the book continues to be worth reading.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:21 PM, Anonymous Mark Brooks said...

Stumbled upon the book yesterday.
I believe that Mr. Grisham used Calico Rock in a small bit of an earlier novel. Feels like it was about 15yrs ago. My interest is in the references to Mr. Rook. Seems to have been based in some small way upon my Grandfather Brooks who was the owner, editor, and reporter for the Calico Rock Progress. His father-in-law built the Victorian home which for many years was known as the Audrey Brooks home and resides between the bluff and at approx 103 South St. Too many coincidences to ignore. As a boy I would scale the bluff, explore the caves, fish the river in what I feel was the best place that a boy could spend his summers.

At 4:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Mr. Brooks. The Ozarks are indeed a wonderful place for a boy to grow up, and Calico Rock is one of the more wonderful places in the Ozarks.

You perhaps recall Perryman's pharmacy. The owner was a distant relative of mine through my maternal grandfather, Henry Perryman.

I used to ride my bicycle from Salem to Sylamore in my latter teenage years -- that was the mid-1970s -- when I was into exploring and radical fitness. I considered riding on to Calico, but that was too far even for me after the 35 miles through Ozark hills!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:34 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Just returned from a fishing trip down to the White River. My fishing buddy was asking the local trout dock about the connection between the local area and Mr. Grisham and apparently this is his secret fishing hole.
I also stayed in Sylamore and drove into town from KC coming down through Melbourne, AR. I saw a sign marking that stretch of Hwy 9 as part of the trail of tears. Beautiful country but sad to think of what was down to these Native Americans not that long ago. Ironic that our country now seems to be hellbent on ending immigration when it was immigrants that drove out the existing citizens, if you will.
They also have a trail there, of different sorts, for biking, called the Sylamo Trail. My brother tells me it's the site for an annual extreme fitness run that includes a creek crossing that is run in the dead of winter and can be quite cold. I may have to pick up this book!

At 4:34 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That's how my Cherokee ancestors came to settle in the White River Hills. I even have a poem about that as the first of my collection in Radiant Snow.

Jeffery Hodges

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