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John Grisham and the return of the short story

December 29, 2009 |  8:32 am


Since 1989, John Grisham has written one book of nonfiction, 21 novels and had 10 of his books turned into big Hollywood movies, including "The Firm," "The Pelican Brief" and "Runaway Jury." This fall, the many-times-over bestselling author published, for the first time, a collection of short fiction -- "Ford County." Fellow author Pat Conroy writes, "Some of the stories are hilarious, and Grisham’s gift of humor has never found a showcase like this."

Why someone with Grisham's list of accomplishments -- which include being a Mississippi state representative -- would try his hand at short fiction is somewhat mysterious. Short fiction has a reputation for being the redheaded stepchild of publishing. It doesn't sell, people say. It is unloved.

Except, maybe, this year. Today at the Guardian, Chris Power declared 2009 the Year of the Short Story. Canadian short-fiction maven Alice Munro, he points out, won the Man Booker International Prize. Short-story master Raymond Carver, who died of lung cancer in 1988, was back on shelves with the retrospective "Collected Stories."

And Grisham's "Ford County" is selling just fine, resting comfortably on the New York Times bestseller list.

Whereas publishing may struggle to get a handle on short fiction, writers seem to know what to do with it. "I’ve had dozens of ideas for Ford County novels, almost all of which peter out for one reason or another," Grisham writes on his website. "The good stories stick, but they’re not always long enough to become novels."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: John Crisham. Credit: Lisa W. Buser / Randomhouse via Bloomberg