Coal mining is at the center of “Gray Mountain”, John Grisham’s latest legal thriller. In it, a young New York attorney takes a temporary internship in a small Virginia coal mining town and is reluctantly drawn into a battle against some of the area’s large coal mining companies.
It’s 2008 and Samantha Kofer becomes a casualty of the economic meltdown – she’s furloughed from her prestigious job as a real estate attorney in a large Manhattan law firm. As a condition of her furlough, she’s given the option to keep her health insurance and possibly return to the firm if she agrees to spend a year working as an unpaid intern at a non-profit. (This part seemed weird and contrived to me. Why would a firm ever offer such an arrangement?) She ends up in a legal aid clinic in western Virginia where, for the first time, she gets to practice “real” law. Many of her clients have been impacted, directly or indirectly, by the mining industry, which Grisham absolutely villainizes. As Samantha begins to feel satisfied by the help she provides to her impoverished clients, she’s faced with a decision – stay or return to New York when her commitment is up.
I had a mixed reaction to this book. I liked the first 90%, but the ending was disappointing. It was kind of odd and definitely anticlimactic. I generally like John Grisham’s writing style – it’s concise and moves the story right along – but in this case he plowed right through the ending.
But there were several things to like about “Gray Mountain”. I liked that Samantha began to enjoy law again once she was able to use her skills to directly help people, rather than just editing contracts 80 hours a week. It was also interesting and appalling to learn about the coal industry. Assuming this is an accurate depiction, what some of them are doing to their workers and to the environment is terrible. I think I need to research this topic some more.
I don’t really recommend this book, mostly because there are many other books more worthy of your time. Plus, I just can’t get past that ending…
Have you read some John Grisham? Which of his novels do YOU recommend?