Look Inside. Sep 09, Minutes Buy. High school all-American Neely Crenshaw was probably the best quarterback ever to play for the legendary Messina Spartans. Fifteen years have gone by since those glory days, and Neely has come home to Messina to bury Coach Eddie Rake, the man who molded the Spartans into an unbeatable football dynasty. For Neely Crenshaw, a man who must finally forgive his coach — and himself — before he can get on with his life, the stakes are especially high.
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John Grisham's 16th novel is not quite what you might expect: Bleachers is no clunking legal thriller but a slim, plotless little number about football. No Mafia, no dodgy juries, and not a struggling young attorney fighting against the system in sight. In so far as there is one, the hero of Bleachers is an ex-coach called Eddie Rake, a legend in the small town of Messina, whose football team he used to inspire to spectacular success.
However, Eddie only appears towards the end, and in a coffin. The novel takes place during his last few days, so Eddie lies off-stage on his deathbed while the former players, who've gathered at the stadium to mark his passing, remember old times.
Because the sport is, of course, not the kind loved and adored throughout the rest of the world but American football, the veteran stars who are recalling the triumphs of 15 years before are still in their early 30s. The Messina Spartans, whose stadium is always packed with 10, spectators, whose feats define the town, whose stars of yesteryear are framed in photos that cover the walls of the local diner, are a team from the local high school.
Neely Crenshaw, Silo Mooney and the rest of the cast all peaked when they were 18 years old. Even for the criminally hedonistic Silo, and especially for Neely, once an amazing quarterback and subsequently something very unamazing in real estate, adulthood can offer nothing to compare with schoolboy glory.
Having set up this intriguing emotional predicament, Grisham shies away from doing anything much with it, preferring to concentrate on the players' memories of wondrous second-half comebacks and the toughness of Coach Rake's training sessions. Neely does have a brief meeting with the girl he once spurned and still loves, and there is a short excursion to more familiar Grisham territory when the sometime Spartans pay a visit to another former footballer in a high-security correctional facility, but that's about it by way of event.
Which is unfortunate, since it leaves the novel relying for most of its material on accounts of games gone by, and accounts of games gone by have a terrible habit of not working in fiction. Possibly it's because it's hard to get worked up about teams and matches that are made-up, sport has proved to be even more difficult for novelists to describe successfully than sex, as various supposed classics - a special mention here for JL Carr's How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup - of a benighted sub-genre will attest.
At one point, when he has to deal with a protracted account of the key game in the book - the championship game, the one that features a secret fracas in the dressing-room and Neely Crenshaw leading the Spartans to an amazing second-half comeback while playing with a broken hand - Grisham comes up with the ingenious ploy of playing the tape of the radio commentary yes, the high-school Spartans had their own commentator on the radio.
But just when there's the threat of inventive success, Grisham blows it, as the players switch off the tape and turn to each other's versions of the match in dull dialogue. This is typical of the book as a whole, which starts out rather promisingly but doesn't really develop. I was left wondering why Grisham bothered to write it.
Perhaps he wanted to evoke his own schooldays when he was, the press release declares, an occasional quarterback for the Chargers of Southaven High School. Or maybe he wanted to prove that he doesn't need all the legal apparatus - that he can do emotion and stuff like that in a literary sort of a book. If that's the case, I'm afraid that Bleachers only proves that he does, and he can't. Topics Fiction. John Grisham reviews. Reuse this content.
A whole new ball game
Grisham demonstrated he could produce bestsellers without legal aid with The Painted House and Skipping Christmas , and he'll undoubtedly do so again with this slight but likable novel of high school football, a legendary coach and the perils of too early fame. Fifteen years after graduation, Neely Crenshaw, one-time star quarterback of the Messina Spartans, returns home on hearing news of the impending death of tough-as-nails coach Eddie Rake. Neely knows the score: "When you're famous at eighteen, you spend the rest of your life fading away. He and his former teammates sit in the bleachers at the high school stadium waiting for Rake to die, drinking beer and reminiscing. There is a mystery involving the legendary '87 championship, and Neely has unfinished business with an old high school sweetheart, but neither story line comes to much. Readers will guess the solution to the mystery, as does the town police chief when it's divulged to him " 'We sorta figured it out,' said Mal" and Neely's former girlfriend doesn't want to have anything to do with his protestations of love "You'll get over it. Takes about ten years".
John Grisham's 16th novel is not quite what you might expect: Bleachers is no clunking legal thriller but a slim, plotless little number about football. No Mafia, no dodgy juries, and not a struggling young attorney fighting against the system in sight. In so far as there is one, the hero of Bleachers is an ex-coach called Eddie Rake, a legend in the small town of Messina, whose football team he used to inspire to spectacular success. However, Eddie only appears towards the end, and in a coffin. The novel takes place during his last few days, so Eddie lies off-stage on his deathbed while the former players, who've gathered at the stadium to mark his passing, remember old times. Because the sport is, of course, not the kind loved and adored throughout the rest of the world but American football, the veteran stars who are recalling the triumphs of 15 years before are still in their early 30s.
The town of Messina, probably in the state of Mississippi in the present day, with flashbacks of football seasons in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Coach Eddie Rake Although he never appears in the flesh in the story, he is definitely the main character. He is a legend in Messina, having coached the high school football team for 34 years and piling up tremendous statistics. He also was fired for inadvertently causing the death of a player because of his strict conditioning practices. He is in the process of dying of cancer, and his former players begin to return to Messina to reminisce about their coach and the glory days of Messina football. Neely Crenshaw He is the main character, and the author tells the story from his point of view. Then, he received a career-ending knee injury as a sophomore in college and his great future disappeared.
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