Sunday, January 29, 2012

I guess it's official, now

One hugely irritating thing I do is to file away David's advice and opinions (instead of acting on them) until they bubble up into the broader culture only then, it seems, noticing them. And what's worse is the pleasure I find in the process..... I've long since given up trying to explain that's it's all not true.

Anyway, I can't resist passing on this major piece from this weekend's Guardian by Philip Hensher on, of all things, Elmore Leonard. Like David, Hensher worships Leonard, has read and absorbed the lessons of Leonard, gets him, and writes beautifully about him. I love that....

His ultimate take is that Leonard is the great American humorist (and that even his vaunted "Rules" are "semi-jocular" and basically ignored by their creator), which as David points out, is what is really going on in that Raylan scene quoted below.

Too many cool quotes -- his explanation of why the first lines of the 'great' Tishomingo Blues are unfilmable, for example, or the paragraph that discusses that book, Out of Sight, Rum Punch, and Get Shorty without the obligatory mentions of the movies based on them, or his astonishing comparison of Leonard to Gladys Mitchell -- but I laughed out loud at this description of a scene from Rum Punch:

The comedy of the hopeless and of the inert reaches a sort of climax in the scene in Rum Punch when the three savage "jackboys", Zulu, Snow and Sweatman, find a rocket launcher in the back of their van to fire at the police trying to arrest them. Their superiority in firepower seems assured, but "'How to fire the motherfucker,' Zulu said." Here's the problem: none of them went to school much, and they are thrown back on their limited literacy, trying to read the instructions:

Zulu said "'Re-…' The fuck is that word there?" Snow said "'Re-…lease.' Yeah, it say to release the … something. 'Release the safe…ty.'"

It's going to end badly, as the police gather round the van.

This comparison of Leonard to Italo Calvino cracked me up, too:

Most powerful is Get Shorty, accurately described by Martin Amis as "a masterpiece" and surely one of the greatest novels of the century, the American If on a Winter's Night a Traveller.

Anyway, it's a great piece. Sorry.


David Chute said...

Two comments so far: "Worship" is too strong and/or off base for my feeling about any writer. And I would love to argue long and hard with Hensher, or anyone else who wanted to step up, over his reference to "the meretricious wielding of that most boring of novelistic features, mystery." Mysterys being simply questions and the attempt to answer questions being fairly central to the human enterprise.

David Chute said...

A wonderful piece, overall. Makes me want to start re-reading some of the older books -- which hasn't seemed an urgent project because he keeps writing new ones.

David Chute said...

And I think quite a few people who aren't writers or readers of detective stories would vehemently dispute Hensher's elaboration of the banality of mystery:

"Mystery is the most banal thing in everyday life. Look out of the window and ask yourself where that man you see is going. It's a complete mystery, but, like most mysteries, rather a boring one. Leonard has asked why mystery should be any more interesting in fiction, and has concluded that it can be done away with altogether."

Strikes me as a slander against the sweet mysteries of life.

Tulkinghorn said...

But is it true about Leonard?

Tulkinghorn said...

This is amusing... Hensher's latest novel ( seems to be a mystery....

David Chute said...

If Leonard wasn't interested in injecting mysteries into his stories all he had to do was come up with an alternative entertaining enough that nobody would miss them.

Tulkinghorn said...

The caper, for example.

The greatest of Wodehouse novels are almost all, in part, capers -- the stealing of cow creamers and memoir manuscripts being paramount. Nobody calling HIM meretricious.

Christian Lindke said...

Not liking Elmore Leonard at his best is a character flaw, but I must say that Yost and crew are arguably better at presenting Raylan.

David Chute said...

Actually, Leonard agrees. He said much the same thing in a recent interview.

David Chute said...


“Quite a tale,” said Stefanos.

“Just a story,” said Strange.

“I’ve heard some of it over the years, here and there. A few of the details differ from yours.”

“It changes, depending on who’s tellin it.”