BLEACHERS takes us to the community of Messina, Mississippi during
four days in October as the town anticipates the death of Eddie
Rake, the legendary high school football coach who molded the
Messina Spartans into a state high school football dynasty. The
four days are viewed through the eyes of Neely Crenshaw, the high
school All-American quarterback who exemplifies the glory days of
Spartan football. Sadly, his recollections and experiences differ
substantially from the glorious memories that the townspeople
Grisham's characters are typical of the individuals all of us can
recall from our high school years. There is Crawford, the
outstanding athlete who everyone thought would play professional
football but who never lived up to that promise. There is Cameron
Lane, the homecoming queen whose beauty stellar, but limiting, the
high school couple who everyone thought would marry, but never did
and the big man on campus whose life was destroyed by an addiction
to drugs. While Messina, Mississippi may be a fictitious community,
the stories of its townspeople are familiar to any town in America.
In a way, this is part of the attraction of BLEACHERS --- its
characters strike a familiar chord.
While we never actually meet Eddie Rake, the legendary coach whose
death has brought many back to Messina, he is the glue that holds
the story together. His players remember him as both a vindictive
slave driver and a mentor who made them better persons. Throughout
the deathwatch and the eventual memorial service, the players and
the community must decide once and for all whether they love Eddie
or hate him. It is the conundrum that many of us face when
important figures in our lives pass away.
John Grisham has written BLEACHERS as a paean to the high school
football experience that he and numerous others have enjoyed. But
there is much more than football in this story. In this short
novella about life, growing up and growing older Grisham has given
us a haunting look at the years in our lives that we often look
back upon with a sense of nostalgia that is difficult to
characterize. Just as we did in A PAINTED HOUSE and SKIPPING
CHRISTMAS readers see a different and more thoughtful John Grisham.
His knack for great storytelling remains and it reminds us why he
is recognized and remembered as more than the writer of the legal
thrillers he has become known for.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 21, 2011