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More Stereotypes in Fiction! A Time for Mercy by John Grisham

January 22, 2021

A Time for Mercy by John Grisham is being branded as the third Jake Brigance book. Who the heck is Jake Brigance? Oh yeah, Jake Brigance was the lawyer in Grisham’s early bestseller A Time to Kill.

I was never a fan of A Time To Kill. I’ve always thought (and you can read more at A Time To Kill vs. To Kill A Mockingbird) that A Time to Kill was successful only because it was released right after The Firm hit it big.

Whether or not you think A Time to Kill was any good, A Time for Mercy might be even worse. I say “might be” because I at least finished A Time to Kill when I read it in the 1990s. At the time, I didn’t care about cliches and one-dimensional characters, and even if I did, John Grisham was a new writer who had succeeded because of grit (if you believed those 1990s stories about Grisham), so his flaws could be overlooked.

Now Grisham is an old man writer. He should know better. Here’s an excerpt from that old man writer’s new novel:

*****

Stuart was a sloppy, violent drunk. His pale Irish skin turned red, his cheeks were crimson, and his eyes glowed with a whiskey-lit fire that she had seen too many times. At thirty-four, he was graying and balding and tried to cover it up with a bad comb-over, which after a night of bar-hopping left long strands of hair hanging below his ears. His face had no cuts or bruises, perhaps a good sign, perhaps not. He liked to fight in the honky-tonks, and after a rough night he usually licked his wounds and went straight to bed. But if there had been no fights he often came home looking for a brawl.

‘The hell you doin’ up?” he snarled as he tried to close the door behind him.

As calmly as possible, Josie said, “Just waitin’ on you, dear. You okay?”

“I don’t need you to wait on me. What time is it, two in the morning?”

*****

It all goes down from here.

Stuart beats the hell out of Josie in an overly violent scene, and then kids get involved, and there’s even an unnecessary sexual reference thrown in about a teen girl. I know that Stuart has to be set up as irredeemable character, but the bad comb-over (redundant) is one step too far. Since this book takes place in 1991, a balding mullet still would have been fashionable to a guy like Stuart. At any rate, this guy seems too despicable, even for a character in a bestselling thriller.

And “Irish skin”? C’mon! I know bestselling authors have to rely on stereotypes, but that’s just lazy!

I also know “C’mon! That’s just lazy!” is not an acceptable legal argument, but it’s fine on a literary blog.

After reading a few pages of A Time for Mercy, it became A Time To Stop Reading because of all the lazy stereotyping. C’mon!

*****

Enough about me! What do you think? Could this scene have been written without the lazy stereotyping? What was the last good John Grisham novel? Is “C’mon!” an acceptable argument on a literary blog?

One Comment
  1. I read a sample of “A time for mercy” and was immediately put off with the language you mention above and the religious contex. I decided I wouldnt read any further.

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