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Sycamore Row – Book Club

Alright bibliophiles of the interwebs – what did you think of Mr. Grisham’s latest offering “Sycamore Row?”

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just not a fan. I was interested in finding out what the outcome of the story would be, so there’s that, but his writing is just so…full of stereotypes. There’s always colorful white characters who flourish and the confused black people who need their guidance. I don’t know, maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for this type of story. The struggling white lawyer, the poor black folks with a whole bunch of freeloading relatives and the sorry black daddy – over all of it. And he misspelled y’all! I thought maybe it was just one typo, but nope, the book repeatedly uses the spelling ya’ll. No. It is a contraction of you all – why did he have the apostrophe behind the a? I’m from California and I know that’s wrong!

So, yeah. I was annoyed the whole time I read the book. Jake got on my nerves. The only thing that saved him for me was the fact that I was picturing M.atthew McConaughey the whole time I was reading (yum!).

I also thought the reason Lettie Lang was left the bulk of Seth Hubbard’s money was kind of obvious. I was hoping for more of a twist.

Anyhoo, I won’t say any more than that right now. I thought the book was okay. If I was grading it, I’d give it a B minus.

Head on over to the comments and let’s get this conversation started. Did you like it? Love it? Thought it was just okay? Who was your favorite character? How was the story development for you? Do tell!


24 thoughts on “Sycamore Row – Book Club

  1. I will weigh on the complete opposite! I absolutely loved it. Though yes, I was picturing Matthew while reading it and that did uhm.. help!

    I am unashamedly a Grisham fan, though a few of his recent books I’ve either grit my teeth or put them down. I feel like Sycamore Row is one of his best books lately, a return to the Grisham of The FIrm and The Client. If I’m reading and talking out loud TO THE BOOK, I know it’s good to me! For me, I think it was the humanity. You just KNEW Seth’s kids were smelling money and I really wanted to see their crestfallen faces when they found out they weren’t getting any and not only that, the maid that they treated like so much gum on the soles of their shoes was getting their fortune. They were spending that money before they even got it.

    I also liked the court room drama, specifically Sistrunk and Buckley showing. out. The judge was a pain in the arse but was looking out for Jake.

    I have to say that the outcome to me, was a surprise. I didn’t know until I read it why Seth picked Lettie. I did want to know how he knew where she was and why, all of a sudden, his will changed? I felt like Grisham didn’t go into that a lot…….. either that or just skimmed over it. The WHY wasn’t apparent to me.


    • We read The Racketeer a few books back, and I wasn’t thrilled with it either. I’ve had folks tell me to read his earlier stuff, so one day I’ll give that a try and see if I become a convert.

    • Agreed with all of what Curvy says. This is vintage Grisham and I am glad he’s back because frankly, the last book I picked by him before reading the Racketeer last year (and it was just aight IMO) was The Appeal back in 2008, and his writing was falling off then. I didn’t think the writing was stereotypical for the times at all. A Time To Kill took place in 1985 and Sycamore Row was set 3 years later, and in a lot of small towns in the South the color lines were still very sharply drawn in terms where people lived and worshipped so that part wasn’t surprising at all.

      I was not expecting the twist about why Seth left Lettie the money either. I initially thought she was his daughter. And the court room scenes were first rate. I felt like I was reading a movie.

      All in all I am glad he revisited this characters, I’m glad he got his mojo back and he needs to keep it up so I can get back to reading my yearly John Grisham.

      • I’m late to the party. Blame it on birthday celebrations, lol. The Racketeer and Sycamore Row both read like movies to me. I’m just waiting for The Racketeer to hit the big screen. I envisioned Matthew McConaughey the entire book! It was a bit predictable, I figured it out early on and I don’t like figuring stuff out. At least with The Racketeer, there was a twist.

        I liked the book. I feel like everything I’ve been reading lately is simplistic, if that makes sense. The characters, the story line, the plot. I don’t want it to be as drawn out and difficult as say, The Emperor of Ocean Park, but I don’t need it just handed to me. Who writes in the happy medium?

  2. I actually liked it, it took me back to his writing style of “A Time to Kill.” I like that it was a quick read and kept me engaged. I didn’t know, from the get go, as to why the moula was left to Lettie, but I have a guess at some point. I wasn’t expecting story from Ancil that was told, but it did tie up the story for me.

    I didn’t notice the misuse of the spelling of “y’all” and all I can say is that it must be the editors. I think Grisham is from MS so he should know better!

    What did annoy me about this book was the amount of white privilege exhibited by many of the whites in the book. I mean, it was set in the late 80s. Did that type of covert racism still exist in MS? Not saying we don’t still have covert (and overt) racism, but I’m a teen from the 80s and that was still happening? Perhaps it was in small towns, I dunno.

    • You know, while I was reading it, I thought….what time period is this book set in? These folks are AWFUL racist up in this piece. But then again, the south in the late 80’s seems to be slow on the equality tip. Especially since Lettie was a black maid, not a black politician or attorney, she was that much lower on the pole of respect. I don’t know if it’s accurate but the attitudes were believable.

    • Hilarious because I thought the same thing about the time setting of the book and went back to make sure the book was indeed set in the 80s and not the 50s or 60s.

      I will say that I do believe this type of situation probably wasn’t all that uncommon particularly in smaller towns as you point out. My in-laws are from Canton, MS and I remember after we got married and moved here they were still saying stuff like “oh, no black people go there, that’s just for white folks, etc., etc.” Um. It’s 1999. I’m pretty sure I’m going where I want to go.

  3. I’m still reading and only on chapter 27. I really want to know the real reason why he willed Lettie most of his money. I’m thinking it’s because she’s a long lost relative…far fetched, I know. Initially, the thought was that she was his boo thang. Too obvious. I’m going to keep reading to find out. I also want to see if they find Ancil. I want him to get his 5%! Seth’s kids can kick rocks! Some parts of the book are moving too slow for me. However, I really like reading Grisham’s books and will continue to do so. Discuss away, y’all (see…I spelled it right…I’m from MS!). I’ll come back when I’m done reading.

    Ernise, yes, covert racism existed in the 80s and even now in 2013 in Mississippi. It’s Mississippi…my home…nothing surprises me. I’m sure it’s more prevalent in smaller towns in the state, but it’s there.

    • I tried not to have any spoilers, so you just keep on reading and make sure you come back and let us know what you think!

      Seth’s kids were horrible. But really, so was he. He was just as much to blame – if not more so because he was the parent – for their lack of relationship as were they.

      I totally agree about the attitudes here in Mississippi. Totally.

    • Gladys, I’m your neighbor (Louisiana!) so I’m appalled that such covert racism still took place in the 80s. I was born & raised in Baton Rouge so maybe I didn’t see it or my parents shielded me from it, not sure. My Mom is from a small Louisiana town, but I don’t recall covert racism going there as a child. There weren’t too many places to go there, besides the grocery store so it could have been there and I just wasn’t exposed to it.

      • Funny. I think your parents shielded you. In 2013, my kids are still surprised when they see white people in my hometown. After all, I go to visit my family and it is 99% black.

  4. OK…can we vote and kick Nerdgirl out of bookclub? All in favor….

    I loved this book because it did bring me back to a Time to Kill and the genius of that book. I am also a Grisham fan and will buy most anything he writes…but I was disappointed in the Racketeer so I am not totally a stan! I can be objective.

    As soon as I started this book, I couldn’t put it down. All the characters may come across as stereotypical but stereotypes exist for a reason. And I could picture every single person. I thought that Seth’s life was so sad…to be estranged from your children like that is awful. And to be rich on top of it? Just sad…and he seemed like such a miserable man.

    What I thought was most cruel was leaving the will like that with no explanation….so there was a good chance that Lettie would never see a dime because he knew his kids would contest it. If he REALLY wanted her to have the money, he would have gotten a good will and explained why.

    And I don’t really think the reason he left it was that great. I wanted more of that; like how did he find out?

    I was also curious why his brother never contacted him in all htose years. I know he was a deadbeat…but his only brother? It seemed odd to leave money to someone who hadn’t seen or hear from in about 50 years.

    I went to visit a plantation in Charleston SC where they had slave quarters. This isn’t shocking…the shocking part is that PEOPLE LIVED IN THEM UNTIL 1985! We are talking 2 room shacks with no electricity or plumbing and there were FAMILIES living there 20 years ago. That blew my mind. So I had no doubt that in small town MS, they have that type of racism in the late 80s….or even now. We have privileges that we don’t even realize.

    I think Grisham’s older books are incredibly awesome…and someone has access to them so read a Time to Kill!

  5. This was my first Grisham book and I really enjoyed it. I have to admit that close to the end I skipped over some of the fluff because I was ready to find out the verdict!

    I thought in the beginning that he gave her the money because of something his family did to her specifically. I loved all of the courtroom action and drama and it was interesting to see how the judge was actually helping Jake out a bit.

    I definitely feel like the racism and classism was spot on in this book.

    I was so happy to see how Seth’s son and daughter were blasted on the stand. They were very ungrateful and I don’t feel like they deserved anything.

    Seth was a mean man but I think that he just lost touch with the good things that can happen in life. Between the horrible experiences from his childhood, the divorces and other loses (his brother) he just felt like the world was a shitty place. Too bad for the people that had to deal with the fall out.

  6. It’s been a really long time since I’ve read anything by John Grisham. I was kind of salty with him after he acted a monkey when Denzel was cast as the lead in the Pelican Brief so I stopped reading him (not that he even knew or cared). Not to mention, his earlier books are so full of negative black stereotypes but at least he sort of spread the sorry around in Sycamore Row. I’ve always thought that he writes what he knows so I can see that his characters have grown as he’s become exposed to more than just Mississippi. Portia was a runner, world traveled and in good physical shape by way of the military, the Memphis lawyers were blustery but good at their jobs, Ozzie the former athlete turned top cop was a good guy – characters we never would have seen in his earlier works so I think Grisham has grown as a writer.

    I’m from Ms and out near where my grandma lived, a white man left a small house and a few acres of land to the black man who worked around the house, helped him out, ran his errands, etc. The dead man left plenty of money and land to his kids and grandkids. Well, the dead man’s family BURNED DOWN THE HOUSE to keep the black man from moving in. This was in the late ‘80’s. So the whole premise of Jake having ethics and actually trying to enforce the specifics of the will are beyond believable to me.

    Another thing, no wife would be ok with her husband spending that much time with an attractive young woman. Especially if the wife is southern and white and the young woman is well traveled, smart, attractive, black and may be in line to inherit millions.

    Overall, the book was pretty good. Like I said earlier, Grisham has grown as a writer and I was entertained. I’m glad I got the book from the library and did not buy it. I give it a B-.

  7. I just finished reading this book but I felt like I needed someone to discuss it with and of course I remembered that you guys read it. I knew there was some fishy reason he left the money to Lettie and I think it was more apparent to me once she said he called her to hire her and not the other way around. He basically sought her out. I loved the book. I couldn’t put it down. But I really like lawyer, legal, courtroom type books/movies. I didn’t really see you guys mention it, but Lettie’s daughter made me want to know more about what she did after the trial was over. And I guess we all pictured the same actor for Jake. I even have a picture in my head of the fat divorce lawyer.. It was a good book that kept my attention.

    • I think I’ve decided that Grisham’s newer stuff just isn’t my favorite. It’s okay, just not as phenomenal as it’s hyped up to be. Disco Diva has suggested that I read some of his earlier stuff and I’ll fall in love with him as an author. We shall see…

      I always want to know more about the more secondary characters!

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