I used to be fairly convinced that John Grisham was a real person. His books were pretty, ehh, y'know, and they sort of had an agenda, but it was a simple enough one that you could see some normal schmuck cranking them out without assistance. A Time To Kill was pretty obvious in its own way--it's about that persistently great statistical zero, e.g., how often white men rape black women, but any average gelding could've come up with that kind of revenge plot. Besides, Grisham had a good example from Harper Lee of how to become popular with the corporate publishers. And then The Firm was such a dry "thriller," more a fantasy about cash and pussy than anything else, without any legal mumbo-jumbo to get in the way...and then The Pelican Brief was about how good it is for the government to send armed death squads across the country, taking money from the proles to fund various "green" corporate initiatives, and The Client was about how stupid and backward (and violent, and backward, and shortsighted) white people are, and The Chamber was about how disgustingly stupid, backward, violent, backward, shortsighted, violent, and stupid white people are, and The Rainmaker was about how greedy and stupid and mean and vengeful white people are.
And when I was nine or ten years old, it was all very great fun reading those things, so I read them all six times each or something, learning about how all white people are money-hungry rape factories, with a dash of Unabomber and a spritz of Lecter thrown in for good measure...and then there was The Partner, about how greedy and sadistic and money-hungry white people are, and The Testament, about how amazingly greedy and quaint and avaricious and violent and conniving and downright disgusting (and stupid and violent) white people are, and Skipping Christmas, about how backward and dull and idiotic European culture is (and greedy and short-sighted and inane and childish and etc.)...
Still, Grisham seemed more like a true believer than a part of the machine. So I read everything he put out, over and over, since every county library and city library and school library and corporate bookstore had his books right up in the front in giant stacks with display banners, and since they kept making them into big-budget movies filled with top stars, which meant that the invisible hand of the free marketplace had done its job, and that this was what literature was.
Everything was cool until "John Grisham" started coming out with his Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer series. Like, no joke. Like, if Michael Crichton were still alive, and he started writing the flavor text for coloring books about "science." Apparently, what I thought was the age range for John Grisham's other books was actually way behind the times, because he hadn't gotten around to writing his young-adult stuff until late in his career. But, like, really, though? Kid Lawyer series? Gnome sane? I'm starting to think that maybe, if he wasn't always a composite personality like Tom Clancy or R.L. Stine, maybe he is now. Did Mr. Randomhaus himself finally pay John that fateful visit, one day?
A gleaming purple Bugatti pulled into the drive of John's Mississippi home early one morn. Shutting the lid of his '94 Powerbook, John loosened his belt a notch and reached for his shotgun. He didn't think he'd have to use it, but with racial tensions running higher than they had since the Sheriff had hung the Tyrone family's twelve new mixed bulldog puppies for barking during church services, it wouldn't hurt to have his most powerful objection ready to file.
"Calm down, John," said Randomhaus, stepping clear of the car. It was the old man himself! Instantly, John's blood pressure leapt two notches. The old man tightened his bolo tie and moved closer to the rickety porch, heeled by a pair of 6'6" Russians with necks as thick as John's waist. "Don't want no one to get hurt round here, now do we?"
"What are you doing?" John demanded, trying to keep the tremble out of his voice. "I'm...I'm rich now. You cain't just come 'round here, threatenin' decent people...you...you cain't."
The old man laughed aloud, revealing the foulest yellow teeth John had ever beheld. "Maybe you's liable for forgetting, but we made you, boy. We can take it away easier'n'a pig shittin' 'neath a tree." Calmly, he set a cheap paperback next to John's iced tea. It had a picture of a penguin on the spine, but nothing else about it was familiar. "Let's talk about your future, John. Let's talk about something I like to call, 'Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer.'" His eyes were evil and expectant.
In a sudden moment of horrified realization, John pressed himself back against his rocking chair, shotgun long forgotten. He barely heard the sound of the ice cubes and glass shattering on the porch left of his chair. "No," he croaked. "No...you wouldn't."
Has he been graduated to the status of "living brand"? Or am I being paranoid, and the Kid Lawyer series is really just the last gasp of some twisted, albeit genuine, southern version of Portlandia?