Monday, August 11, 2008

Playing for Pizza

By John Grisham

I have been reading John Grisham stories for fun since he started publishing. He helped perfect the "attorney novel" form along with Scott Turow and others.

I enjoyed them, and this one is fun in an entertaining and humorous way, too. It deals with the law in the form of judge, policemen and detective characters only marginally involved in the life of a football player transplanted to Italy for his final ball-playing years.

This is the story of the fictional Rick Dockery and his colleagues in a real-life Italian football team, the Parma Panthers, that he is persuaded to join for a year and the games they have. I really enjoyed all of the story, as it is a semi-travelogue of Italy, too. John Grisham clearly loves this sport and Italy.

Fortunately for me, it did not assume any technical knowledge of football and obligingly provides much of it to pamper the reader. Before I read "Playing for Pizza" I was worried that it would be rather too male-oriented and technical about a sport I don't watch. My fears of positive disinterest were unfounded, as technical rules are described in depth, with style and enthusiasm.The football scenes are quite intense but interesting enough to keep the reader moving along and engaged.

It is fun to travel along with Rick in his everyday life, almost in diary form. The photographic sort of description amplifies the kaleidoscopic nature of individual travel. The fact that Rick combines his travel with a job playing football makes the business of living in Italy removed from the mundane without the usual details that would haunt most year-long visitors.

Rick was given a car by the team owner, albeit a small stick-shift to drive. His description of an early morning drive around the city for practice was one of my favorite scenes in the story. It feels like you are there, watching too, and sympathizing with him. It was really funny each time he bravely ventured forth. But he did not have to buy the car and pay for it. Rick complained about the small size, but he was lucky it wasn't a motor cycle, and hey, the price was unbeatable.

Same story goes with the accommodation. Again, he lacked choice but won with convenience. His apartment worked out well for him and he was grateful for it. He seems like a pretty likable and reasonable guy. John Grisham wants you to sympathize with him.

The stories of the agent and the football teams in the U.S. and Canada and the journalists were interesting and did not put me off reading the story as they might have. Rick's attitudes, portrayed as normal for his role as a football player toward women and food were the most fun for me. What the women do and put up with, such as making impromptu meals and parties with relentless good humor, and so many quiet evenings probably alone on men's nights out must have tried the patience of some of the women. The fact that many of the players are unattached was not an area of exploration and rationalization.

The descriptions that I recognized made me almost wistful about traveling in old Italy. I trusted the author all the more because his descriptions complemented my visits to Italy and how the country works. Having visited that country more times than I can count, I found his story believable while also being humorous. I must say that I identified myself somewhat with Rick's final girlfriend, Livvy, the one our emotionally maturing hero is so happy to link up with by the end of the story. I traveled around Italy in a similar way at her age. I don't want to give away too much of the story, because there is a lot to like about it.

Of course, one always has unique travel experiences and takes away different memories from anyone else even on the same route. Whether or not you like the main character, you can certainly sympathize with his actions and reactions. He does what you might do in the same circumstances.

Anyone from post-teenage readers on will enjoy this tale. Anyone contemplating a trip to Italy, as well, will find this novel painless and illuminating as a semi-travelogue. This is a nice read that will keep you riveted and curious, a page-turner with a good story, offering up a slice of the life of a football player.

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