Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Sid Salter: Grisham’s ‘Sooley’ scores an intriguing novel about hoops and Third World realities

 Professional book critics usually squirm uncomfortably in their reviews when author John Grisham gets out of the more familiar mold of legal thrillers with unexpected plot twists or more gothic looks at a South that is evolving on questions of race, equality, or social justice.

His novellas that center on sports often engender particular angst in that crowd. But as one who has followed Grisham’s remarkable career since “A Time to Kill” was published in 1989, the truth is that in many ways, I enjoy those nuanced, often-surprising paeans to sports more than the legal thrillers that are the sturdy foundation of the literary House That Grisham Built.


Grisham, the former Mississippi lawyer/legislator who once dreamed of a career as a college and professional baseball player, has famously written about sports before.


In 2003, Grisham’s novella “Bleachers” explored the complicated relationship between high school football and small towns -- and between loyal and courageous players and driven, demanding coaches. The character Neely Crenshaw -- the faded, jaded Messina High Spartans quarterback -- is one of Grisham’s most ambivalent literary creations.


In 2004, Grisham’s screenplay for the film “Mickey” was produced and released as a vehicle starring Harry Connick Jr. The screenplay examined integrity vs. the “win-at-all-costs” mentality of sports against the backdrop of the Little League World Series. Grisham would say he gained inspiration for his writing from his experiences as a Little League coach.


In 2007, Grisham’s novel “Playing for Pizza” was released. The book recounted failed NFL quarterback Rick Dockery’s journey of self-discovery after being drummed out of the NFL and forced to “play for pizza” in the Italian Football League.


“Calico Joe” is my favorite of the Grisham sports novellas. It is the fictional story of Joe Castle’s childhood in real-life Calico Rock, Ark., and of his storybook journey from the minor leagues to dominating the majors in 1973 as a 21-year-old rookie first baseman for the Chicago Cubs.


For anyone who has played baseball from Little League to the majors, the book strikes that tuning fork deep in the chest of those who looked into the sun to catch a fly ball, who faced an opportunity to win the game facing a 3-2 count in the bottom of the 9th against a stud reliever, or who even briefly contemplated stealing home.


I felt that tuning fork during Mississippi State’s recent baseball series against Ole Miss – during games that ended in victory and defeat. Sports offers such a thrilling ride on that rollercoaster.

Grisham’s “Sooley” is South Sudan phenom Samuel Sooleymon, for whom basketball was a ticket out of his war-torn country and an exciting new life in America replete with first college and then professional basketball adulation.


All that against the backdrop of the dangers Sooley’s family faces in Africa as rebel troops attack his village, leaving his father a casualty and his sister missing. Those harsh realities bring new focus to what will transpire for Sooley’s mother and two brothers as the civil war intensifies there.


Will Sooley’s basketball success punch the tickets of his family to leave the South Sudan war zone? Can Sooley avoid the pitfalls of quick money and intense fame? What about the coaches, agents, camp followers, users and manipulators that trail talented athletes?


The book touches many themes – the competition for NCAA talent that is now global in scope, fame and hero worship, the complex price of fame, the disposability of athletes when their abilities can no longer serve college or professional organizations, and how athletic talents can lift the most desperate souls out of poverty and other dire circumstances – or not.


Like “Calico Joe”, “Sooley” (Doubleday, $28.95, 368 pages) is a cautionary tale with several paths to redemption or heartbreak. Like all Grisham tales, the latter chapters will get you sunburned at the beach or yawning at work from lack of sleep. It’s an excellent read.



Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at




Anonymous said...

Nobody cares about Grisham book’s anymore, he’s too “woke”.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely correct. And the woke crowd doesn’t read crime novels written by old farts. They read Harry Potter and the Caped Heroes of Nintendo, if they read anything at all.

Anonymous said...

" the woke crowd doesn’t read crime novels written by old farts. They read Harry Potter and the Caped Heroes of Nintendo, if they read anything at all."

Laughing my ass off.
But that is so true !

Grisham's first few novels were great, but then he started making millions with a famous "capitalistic" New York publisher. (Churning out bull shit books to meet his contract).
The same thing happened to Tom Clancy.

The "Woke" Left-Wing hypocrisies are so funny.

Now Grisham is pretending to be an expert about African village dynamics. ?

Good Lord !

As far as our old fart writers go, he should follow Faulkner's retirement plan:

Retire to wherever he's happy and drink a lot of Kentucky bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, or Pontotoc County moonshine ... (while enjoying the antics of his Grand Kids) .

Anonymous said...

When Grisham tells stories, he is good. When Grisham shares his politics he is terrible.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

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In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS