An American in Parma
John Grisham. Playing for Pizza. Doubleday (2007). 308 pp. $7.99.
To say that Rick Dockery is down on his luck is to say that the Detroit Lions are having an off season. At twenty-eight years old, Rick’s been signed by eight teams in six years–all as third-string quarterback. Every bit of logic is telling him that football may be more of a childhood dream than an intended reality. But he never gives up, and in a desperate attempt to avoid arena football while continuing to play, Rick takes the advice of his dwindling agent and agrees to play the 8-game season for the Panthers of Parma, Italy.
Nothing about Parma is remotely similar to anything to Rick knows back in the States. This is a place where men play football because they enjoy the sport, and most of them have jobs during the day to support their family; they’re not paid to play. Only the American players are given a salary, and even then it’s a fraction of what they would make playing for their home nation.
Rick’s adaption to Italy varies based on how well things are going for him. When his team is performing with some sense of order, when he is on good terms with opera-singer Gabriella or American exchange student Lily, in short, when he is able to be the Rick he thought himself to be in the States, he more easily saunters into the Italian culture the way he sauntered into the country itself: “fresh … and dressed for summer drinks at the country club.” This being said, his “American-ness” comes out full force when things don’t go entirely his way.
Playing for Pizza, thought endearing, is the awkward American on the Grisham football team. Grisham is acclaimed for his lawyer dramas, including A Painted House and The Pelican Brief. With the exception of 2001’s Skipping Christmas (made into the movie Christmas with the Kranks starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) his books grip the reader through suspense and thrill. Rick and his gang allow the shoulders to relax a bit, the nose to inhale deeply, and the corners of the mouth to upturn into a smile.