We finally get to a best-seller on the blog. John Grisham, known the world over for his courtroom thrillers, takes a U-turn of sorts this time around and writes about football and Italy. I have not read the book but I recently gave a copy — a birthday gift — to my father, a longtime Grisham fan and even longer football fan and, of course, he's been Italian all his life. Here's a review from the Associated Press:
BY SARA ROSE
John Grisham’s newest novel, Playing for Pizza, (Doubleday, 258 pages, $21.95) is definitely not what you would expect from the master of courtroom suspense. Grisham leaves the lawyers and intrigue behind and instead focuses on football. American football. In Italy...
Grisham has written about football before (2003’s Bleachers), but this short novel is much lighter — a little Peter Mayle, mixed with a little ‘‘Lidia’s Italy,’’ topped off with a nice chunk of an NFL play book.
Third-string quarterback Rick Dockery has spent his entire football career scrambling to play for any team that will have him. He’s got a great arm that can’t be trusted. He’s terrified of being hit, won’t run the ball, throws so hard his receivers are bruised and tends to aim for the wrong team.
It is this last unfortunate trait that made for possibly the worst moment in NFL’s long history. The Cleveland Browns had finally made it to the AFC championship game and were 17 points ahead — a sure win. Rick is sent in and in a matter of minutes, the Browns lose the game, Rick is in the hospital and a mob of Browns fans are out for blood. Rick is quickly cut from the team and cast out from the NFL world.
Rick, refusing to quit the game, needs a team and Arnie, his agent, finds him one: The Panthers in Parma, Italy. The paycheck is small and Rick couldn’t find Parma on a map if you paid him, but he agrees. Playing for Pizza is a nice, easy story in which the hero suffers, travels a path of self-discovery, learns a few lessons, finds some redemption and gets the girl. But there’s not much depth. We get a sense of the characters — Arnie, the slimy agent and Franco, the shady judge and Panthers bruiser — but unfortunately not much more.
Grisham often writes of ‘‘tongue-lashings’’ and ‘‘impressive abuse’’ from coaches, judges, police, but he never really lets us in on the details. We get a play-by play of Verdi’s ‘‘Otello,’’ but no information on the halftime tirades where players are eviscerated — or so we imagine. All the reasons for passion and energy — the game, the wins and losses, infatuation, beauty, women, food — that Grisham could have plunged headfirst into for many pages are left basically unexplored. He chooses instead to float on the calm surface of stereotypes and, with the help of cookbooks and travel guides, constructs a plot that writes itself.
Surely, he has an affection for football, Italy and Italian food, but not much of that love shows through. He tackles the well-worn expatriate story from a unique angle and it would have been nice to have seen this sports point of view with more depth; it would have been nice to see Grisham take Rick and his story to a place where he’s more than ‘‘an extra in a foreign film.’’