Brown Baggers met on October 20 to discuss John Grisham’s 2014 novel Gray Mountain. This book focuses on the practice of coal mining – especially strip mining – in the Appalachian Mountains. Set in Grady, Virginia, in 2008 it follows main character Samantha as she discovers the beaten down life of residents, the negative environmental changes, and the shady business practices by big coal companies.
Readers had mixed reviews to this book but most agreed it was predictable. They were glad to see the inclusion of the issues surrounding coal mining, whose treatment Grisham gives a heavy hand. Many readers had lived in or had ties to coal country or other industrial areas of the country where lax regulations and industry power has hurt the residents, the environment, and the job market. For those unaware of the havoc coal mining can wreak on a community and its surroundings, this was an informative read. Both groups of readers appreciated Grisham’s attempt to focus the spotlight on this issue.
While many supporting characters we less well-defined, we got the most exposure to protagonist Samantha. Readers agreed that she showed growth as the book progressed – mostly as a result of finally experiencing something outside her privileged upbringing and comfort zone and finding out how nice it felt to help others. Readers appreciated the ethical dilemma Grisham gave her character and felt it was illustrative of issues lawyers regularly face. Some felt the narrative of Samantha’s isolation, both in bustling New York City as well in sleepy, rural Virginia, was very relatable.
Other Grisham Reads
Sycamore Row – a sequel to A Time to Kill
A Painted House – a semi-autobiographical novel about his southern boyhood
The Street Lawyer – a novel that handles its subject (homelessness) equally heavily
Theodore Boone series – novels for younger readers
Other Titles Mentioned
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – about ecological challenges facing Monarch butterflies
The Price of Justice by Laurence Leamer – about big coal prosecution
Brown Baggers will meet again on November 17 to discuss Louise Erdrich’s Round House.