Sunday, October 11, 2015

Review: Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Title: Gray Mountain
Author: John Grisham
Year Published: 2014

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 368
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (VA)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book):
 The year is 2008 and Samantha Kofer's career at a huge Wall Street law firm is on the fast track--until the recession hits and she gets downsized, furloughed, escorted out of the building. Samantha, though, is one of the "lucky" associates. She's offered an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic for one year without pay, after which there would be a slim chance that she'd get her old job back.

In a matter of days Samantha moves from Manhattan to Brady, Virginia, population 2,000, in the heart of Appalachia, a part of the world she has only read about. Mattie Wyatt, lifelong Brady resident and head of the town's legal aid clinic, is there to teach her how to "help real people with real problems." For the first time in her career, Samantha prepares a lawsuit, sees the inside of an actual courtroom, gets scolded by a judge, and receives threats from locals who aren't so thrilled to have a big-city lawyer in town. And she learns that Brady, like most small towns, harbors some big secrets.

Her new job takes Samantha into the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, where laws are often broken, rules are ignored, regulations are flouted, communities are divided, and the land itself is under attack from Big Coal. Violence is always just around the corner, and within weeks Samantha finds herself engulfed in litigation that turns deadly.

Review: I read a new Grisham about every year and a half, knowing what the book will be like (white male lawyer living in Mississippi and dealing with murder and/or embezzlement), but this one was a nice surprise from Grisham's usual fare. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the usual Grisham, but it was really great to see him writing something different and I learned a lot from this novel.

The first big change is that this novel's main character is a woman. Yes, she's a lawyer, but no, she does not live in Mississippi; the action takes place in Appalachian area of Virginia. Appalachia is an area that I have heard about, but I have never traveled there. This novel made me want to drive through the area. Not necessarily stay there, but travel through. It sounds beautiful with the mountains, rivers, outdoor life, and the quiet. I think I would also be shocked by the poverty. And the destruction to the region by "big coal" as Grisham calls it.

Coal mining, coal companies, and their behavior are a huge part of this book. And it feels like Grisham is angry. Angry at the injustice of good people getting sick with black lung, having no unions, losing jobs and their health, facing death in unsafe working conditions, and more. All of this plays large in Samantha's legal aid work in Brady, Virginia. Is some of it exaggerated for effect? Maybe. Maybe not. I wouldn't be surprised if most of the things in this book have happened more than once. I also learned a lot about mining, strip mining, and the effects on the environment.

Fascinating stuff and in a really good book.

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