Book Review

Grisham explores cruelty and forgiveness


Novelist is known for writing legal thrillers, but Calico Joe is not about law.

The point of departure of the book is one baseball field encounter between two players, but the essence of the content is mainly on jealousy, reconciliation and compassion.

Joe Castle is a top flight baseball player with Chicago Cubs in the early 1970s, but he has enemies hidden within the game, though not in his club in particular but elsewhere. Tracy reveals himself as Castle’s number one enemy and this changes Castle’s life as a player for ever – he will never play again after this one game.

Tracy is full of hatred for the star player and he plans to hurt him. It is a clear indication of what hatred can lead to when an enemy acts. Castle is seriously hurt in one game, the only game that provides the background of the novel although its details or its other players are not discussed nor is the game the key issue in the book.

Tracy is himself a baseball player with the Mets of New York, but is low ranked and jealous of the stellar achievements of the young Castle to the extent that as a pitcher he hits (what is described as “beaning”) Castle with the ball on the face and badly hurts him. Castle plays as a batter or hitter. Castle is nearly crippled, becoming partly blind for a while, and eventually ends up paralysed even after months of treatment.

But Tracy is not only cruel to a fellow player. His son Paul tells of his brutality in the family from the time he was age 11. The boy witnessed his father bean the Cubs star. The boy wrote a letter to Castle expressing how sorry he was that his father had hurt the player.

The contents of the letter, revealed towards the end of the book, clearly provides one of the positive endings to the story that otherwise wreaks of heart-wrenching feelings of cruelty from the beginning.

But Paul, more than 30 years after the fateful game, is also the one who provides the resolution to the issue that may preoccupy the mind of the reader who notes the extent of injustice done to Castle who is such a promising player of the game, but whose career is prematurely ended.

Decades later, Paul persuades his father, who is now virtually on his death bed suffering from cancer, to meet Castle and apologise. But it is very difficult to persuade a man – who is portrayed as having been quite happy with ending the career of Castle – to deliver the apology.

Tracy is as full of hatred in old age as when he was young and only disease has mellowed him. The story may speak to many people. Grisham ends the book by giving some factual background to the story as relates to Cubs and Mets, but stresses it is a work of fiction though laced with names of people who really existed.