The Summons

The Summons

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It's all about brotherhood when you reach the bottom line. Ray and Forrest Atlee were born and raised in Clanton, Miss., where their father was a chancery court judge. They lived in an antebellum mansion named Maple Run and went their separate ways after they grew up. Ray became a law professor at the University of Virginia, and Forrest, who was named after Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, went on to become a substance abuser extraordinaire.

Ray, the primary character, has a peaceful life in Charlottesville, Va., where he spends his free time learning to fly airplanes. He is divorced by a woman who left him for new money and travels in her new husband's jet plane from the same airport where Ray rents his single-engine Cessna. He has no social life, but doesn't seem to mind as long as he can get away for long quiet flights over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Forrest, in the meantime, is living in Memphis, Tenn., with an old girlfriend, bottles of booze and drugs as he goes from job to job, rehab to rehab. He brags to his brother on the few occasions that they speak on the phone that he has been sober for 100 days, or 30, or 10. You get the picture, and Forrest does too as he confides on one occasion that some people are just meant to be addicts.

Ray's life moves lazily along until the day he received the summons. It is in the form of a one-page letter from his father, Judge Reuben Atlee, telling him to appear in the judge's study at Maple Run on May 7 at 5:00 p.m. The judge is dying from cancer and believes he is nearing the end of his life. He wants to meet to discuss his final arrangements. In a phone call to Forrest, Ray learns that both brothers had been summoned.

Ray had mixed memories of his childhood as he drove from Charlottesville to Clanton. His mother had died young and his father had been a full-time judge but a very part-time father. He tended to manage the children much as a lawyer manages a case. Judge Atlee also was, well, judgmental. He idolized General Forrest and took vacations to visit the battlefields where the general once stood. The idolization is a symbol of the old Southern mind-set that Ray sees so vividly in his father and that resulted in his father's lack of involvement in the lives of his brother and himself.

When Ray arrives at the family home for the meeting, no one is there but his father, who appears to be sleeping on the sofa in the living room. Ray goes to the kitchen and waits for his brother to arrive. At the appointed hour, Forrest is nowhere to be seen so Ray goes to check on his father. The judge has died, and Ray wonders whether the death was from natural causes or from an intentional overdose by using the morphine pump his father had attached to lessen the pain of the growing cancer.

While deciding what to do, Ray goes through his father's desk in the study and finds a one-page will making him the executor of his father's estate. Ray knows that his family comes from what is referred to euphemistically as "old money," but he also knows that most of the money was used up before his father was grown. He does not expect to find anything of value and believes the old house is the primary estate asset.

When he finds more than $3 million in cash in stationery boxes hidden in cabinets under bookcases in the study, Ray begins a journey taking him to the casinos in Mississippi and New Jersey, to a yacht in the Gulf of Mexico and to his brother's home in Memphis to find the source of the money. Was his father not the paragon of virtue Ray always thought he was? Had he become a gambler when he retired from the bench? Had his father been on the take the whole time he was serving as judge?

Ray decides not to tell his brother about the money because he is afraid Forrest will take his share and buy enough drugs to kill himself. While he is protecting his brother from himself, Ray contracts to purchase an expensive airplane and wrestles with other issues that arise with newly found wealth. When finally threatened with death by unknown assailants if he does not turn over the money, Ray decides he'd rather have his life as a professor of moderate means back than to keep the money. After the money is taken from him, he gets information that makes him wonder whether those he suspected were after the money were actually the ones who got it.

When he does find out who got the money, the reader receives the full value of the story. This is not just a good, entertaining book. It has a point to make, a message to convey. The reader won't see the value until the last page is read and the end meets the beginning. The brotherhood is measured for value and mutuality. Just as Ray Atlee was summoned to inspect his values by the simple one-page letter, you will be summoned to compare yours to his as you travel from mystery to meaning through Grisham's latest bestseller.

Journal Date: 
Monday, April 1, 2002