A Painted House

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A Painted House
A Painted House.JPG
First edition cover
Author John Grisham
CountryUnited States
Genre Thriller
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
February 6, 2001
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages388 pp
ISBN 0-385-50120-X
OCLC 301832819
813/.54 21
LC Class PS3557.R5355 P3 2001b

A Painted House is a 2001 novel by American author John Grisham. It was made into a television film in 2003, starring Scott Glenn and Logan Lerman.

John Grisham American author

John Ray Grisham Jr. is an American novelist, attorney, politician, and activist, best known for his popular legal thrillers. His books have been translated into 42 languages and published worldwide.

A Painted House is a 2003 American Hallmark Hall of Fame television film starring Scott Glenn and Logan Lerman. It is based on the novel of the same name by John Grisham.

Scott Glenn United States Marine and actor

Theodore Scott Glenn is an American actor. His roles have included Wes Hightower in Urban Cowboy (1980), astronaut Alan Shepard in The Right Stuff (1983), Emmett in Silverado (1985), Commander Bart Mancuso in The Hunt for Red October (1990), Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), John Adcox in Backdraft (1991), Roger in Training Day (2001), Ezra Kramer in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Kevin Garvey, Sr. in The Leftovers (2014–2017) and as Stick in both Daredevil (2015–2017) and The Defenders (2017).


Inspired by his childhood in Arkansas, [1] it is Grisham's first major work outside the legal thriller genre in which he established himself. Set in the late summer and early fall of 1952, its story is told through the eyes of seven-year-old Luke Chandler, the youngest in a family of cotton farmers struggling to harvest their crop and earn enough to settle their debts. The novel portrays the experiences that bring him from a world of innocence into one of harsh reality.

Arkansas State of the United States of America

Arkansas is a state in the southern region of the United States, home to over 3 million people as of 2018. Its name is of Siouan derivation from the language of the Osage denoting their related kin, the Quapaw Indians. The state's diverse geography ranges from the mountainous regions of the Ozark and the Ouachita Mountains, which make up the U.S. Interior Highlands, to the densely forested land in the south known as the Arkansas Timberlands, to the eastern lowlands along the Mississippi River and the Arkansas Delta.

The legal thriller is a subgenre of thriller and crime fiction in which the major characters are lawyers and their employees. The system of justice itself is always a major part of these works, at times almost functioning as one of the characters. In this way, the legal system provides the framework for the legal thriller much as the system of modern police work does for the police procedural.


The story begins to unfold as Luke and his grandfather Eli, also known as Pappy, search for migrant workers to help them with the cotton picking. They initially consider themselves lucky to hire the Spruills, a family of "hill people," and a few Mexican migrant workers who annually come to the area looking for work.

Hillbilly derogatory term in the United States for people who live in rural areas

"Hillbilly" is a term for people who dwell in rural, mountainous areas in the United States, primarily in Appalachia and the Ozarks. The first known instances of "hillbilly" in print were in The Railroad Trainmen's Journal, an 1899 photograph of men and women in West Virginia labeled "Camp Hillbilly", and a 1900 New York Journal article containing the definition: "a Hill-Billie is a free and untrammeled white citizen of Tennessee, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him". The stereotype is twofold in that it incorporates both positive and negative traits: "Hillbillies" are often considered independent and self-reliant individuals who resist the modernization of society, but at the same time they are also defined as backward and violent. Scholars argue this duality is reflective of the split ethnic identities in white America.

Aside from working long hours under the hot sun in the fields, Luke's life is fairly idyllic. He is much obsessed with the beautiful 17-year old Tally Spruill, who on one occasion lets him see her naked, bathing in a creek. But a much more unpleasant experience is seeing Tally's brother, the overly aggressive and mentally unstable Hank Spruill, attack three boys from the notorious Sisco family - one of whom is beaten so severely that he dies from his wounds. Hank arrogantly identifies Luke as a friendly witness who can support his version of the event, and the fearful boy backs up his story, although the adults in his life, including local sheriff Stick Powers, suspect he's too frightened to admit the truth.

A sheriff is a government official, with varying duties, existing in some countries with historical ties to England, where the office originated. There is an analogous although independently developed office in Iceland that is commonly translated to English as sheriff, and this is discussed below.

When Luke sees Cowboy, one of the Mexicans, later murder Hank and toss his body into the river, Cowboy threatens to kill Luke's mother if Luke tells anyone what he saw. Cowboy and Tally, the teenage daughter of the Spruills, then run off together and are not seen again. Luke also learns that his admired Uncle Ricky, fighting in the Korean War, might have fathered a child with a daughter of the Latchers, their poverty-stricken sharecropping neighbors.

Korean War 1950–1953 war between North Korea and South Korea

The Korean War was a war between North Korea and South Korea. The war began on 25 June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea following a series of clashes along the border.

Sharecropping form of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on their portion of land

Sharecropping is a form of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on their portion of land. Sharecropping has a long history and there are a wide range of different situations and types of agreements that have used a form of the system. Some are governed by tradition, and others by law. Legal contract systems such as the Italian mezzadria, the French métayage, the Spanish mediero, the Slavic połowcy,издoльщина or the Islamic system of muqasat, occur widely.

Grisham surrounds these dramatic moments with descriptive passages of life in the rural South and the ordinary events that fill Luke's weekly routine. His hard work in the fields is preceded by a hearty breakfast of eggs, ham, biscuits, and the one cup of coffee his mother allows him, and at day's end he's rewarded with an evening on the front porch, where the family gathers around the radio to listen to Harry Caray announce the St. Louis Cardinals baseball games. A devoted fan, Luke is saving his hard-earned money to buy a team warm-up jacket he saw advertised in the Sears, Roebuck catalog. Saturday afternoons are spent in town, where the adults share idle gossip and serious concerns and the youngsters visit the movie house, while Sunday morning is reserved for church. A visiting carnival, the annual town picnic, and Luke's introduction to television – to see a live broadcast of a World Series game – are additional bits of local color scattered throughout the tale.

Southern United States Cultural region of the United States

The southern United States, also known as the American South, Dixie, Dixieland, or simply the South, is a region of the United States of America. It is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the western United States, with the midwestern United States and northeastern United States to its north and the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico to its south.

Harry Caray American sportscaster

Harry Caray was an American sportscaster on radio and television. He covered five Major League Baseball teams, beginning with 25 years of calling the games of the St. Louis Cardinals with two of these years also spent calling games for the St. Louis Browns. After a year working for the Oakland Athletics and eleven years with the Chicago White Sox, Caray spent the last sixteen years of his career as the announcer for the Chicago Cubs.

St. Louis Cardinals Major League Baseball team in St. Louis, Missouri, United States

The St. Louis Cardinals are an American professional baseball team based in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the National League (NL) Central division. Busch Stadium has been their home ballpark since 2006. One of the most successful franchises in baseball history, the Cardinals have won 11 World Series championships, the second-most in Major League Baseball and the most in the National League. Their 19 National League pennants rank third in NL history. In addition, St. Louis has won 13 division titles in the East and Central divisions.

A flood devastates the family's cotton crop before the harvest is completed, and Luke's parents decide to travel to the city to find work in a Buick plant, breaking a history of generations working on the land. The novel ends with Luke's mother smiling on the bus, having finally got her wish to leave cotton farming.

The book's title refers to the Chandler house, which never has been painted, a sign of their lower social status in the community. One day Luke discovers someone has been secretly painting the weather-beaten clapboards white, and eventually he continues the job with the approval of his parents and the assistance of the Mexicans, contributing some of his own savings for the purchase of paint.

Main characters

This house in Lepanto, Arkansas was the house used in the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie A Painted House Lepanto AR 26.jpg
This house in Lepanto, Arkansas was the house used in the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie A Painted House

Additional characters

Television adaptation

On April 27, 2003, CBS broadcast a television adaptation directed by Alfonso Arau for the Hallmark Hall of Fame. Aside from advancing Luke's age from seven to ten and adding a brief scene at the end, Patrick Sheane Duncan's teleplay remained faithful to its source and frequently used Grisham's dialogue verbatim.

The cast included Scott Glenn as Pappy, Logan Lerman as Luke, Robert Sean Leonard as Jesse, Melinda Dillon as Gran, Arija Bareikis as Kathleen, Audrey Marie Anderson as Tally, Luis Esteban Garcia as Cowboy, and Pablo Schreiber as Hank.

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