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The Bounty Hunters
The Law at Randado
Escape from Five Shadows
Last Stand at Saber River
Hombre
The Big Bounce
The Moonshine War
Valdez is Coming
Forty Lashes Less One
Mr. Majestyk
Fifty-Two Pickup
Swag
Unknown Man No. 89
The Hunted
The Switch
Gunsights
City Primeval
Gold Coast
Split Images
Cat Chaser
Stick
Labrava
Glitz
Bandits
Touch
Freaky Deaky
Killshot
Get Shorty
Maximum Bob
Rum Punch
Pronto
Riding the Rap
Out of Sight
Cuba Libre
Be Cool
Pagan Babies
Tishomingo Blues
Mr. Paradise
A Coyote’s in the House
The Hot Kid
Comfort to the Enemy
Up in Honey’s Room
Road Dogs
Djibouti
Raylan

Stories

The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard
The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories
When the Women Come Out to Dance
Trail of the Apache
Apache Medicine
You Never See Apaches…
Red Hell Hits Canyon Diablo
The Colonel’s Lady
Law of the Hunted One
Cavalry Boots
Under the Friar’s Ledge
The Rustlers
Three Ten to Yuma
The Big Hunt
Long Night
The Boy Who Smiled
The Hard Way
The Last Shot
Blood Money
Trouble at Rindo’s Station
Saint with a Six-Gun
The Captives
No Man’s Guns
The Rancher’s Lady
Jugged
Moment of Vengeance
Man with the Iron Arm
The Longest Day of his Life
The Nagual
The Kid
The Treasure of Mungo’s Landing
The Bull Ring at Blisston
Only Good Ones
The Tonto Woman
Hurrah for Captain Early
Karen Makes Out
The Odyssey
Sparks
Hanging Out at the Buena Vista
Fire in the Hole
Chickasaw Charlie Hoke
When the Women Come Out to Dance
Tenkiller
Showdown at Checotah
Louly and Pretty Boy
Chick Killer (2011)
Ice Man

Film and TV

Moment of Vengeance
3:10 to Yuma
The Tall T
Hombre
The Big Bounce (I)
The Moonshine War
Valdez is Coming
Joe Kidd
Mr. Majestyk
High Noon, Part II
Stick
52 Pickup
Desperado
The Rosary Murders
Glitz (TV)
Cat Chaser
Border Shootout
Split Images
Get Shorty
Last Stand at Saber River
Pronto
Touch
Elmore Leonard’s Gold Coast (TV)
Jackie Brown
Maximum Bob
Out of Sight
Karen Sisco
The Big Bounce (II)
Be Cool (2005)
The Ambassador
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Killshot (2009)
Freaky Deaky
The Tonto Woman
Sparks
Justified
Life of Crime

Sunday, August 19, 2007

lntro to “Elmore Leonard’s Dutch Treat” by George F. Will

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John McFetridge made a post in The Dutch Forum today about the introductions that Elmore has written for other fiction writers.  Most are available on the site.  Check Robb’s post here for the list and links.

It gave me an idea.  Some of you may not know that there have been introductions written already to two of Elmore’s novel collection published by Arbor House in the 1980s:  Dutch Treat (The Hunted-Swag-Mr. Majestyk), introduction by George F. Will; and, Double Dutch Treat (The Moonshine War-Gold Coast-City Primeval), introduction by Bob Greene.

Here is the George F. Will introduction to Dutch Treat.  I think it’s great.

In the 1950s, when Elmore “Dutch” Leonard was plugging away at writing novels but was keeping the wolf from his door by writing advertising copy for Chevrolet trucks, he would go out among the truckers and listen to them talk. Leonard asked one trucker to say what he liked best about his truck. The fellow replied, “You can’t wear that sonofabitch out, you just get tired of looking at it and buy a new one.”

 

 

In the 1950s, when Elmore “Dutch” Leonard was plugging away at writing novels but was keeping the wolf from his door by writing advertising copy for Chevrolet trucks, he would go out among the truckers and listen to them talk. Leonard asked one trucker to say what he liked best about his truck. The fellow replied, “You can’t wear that sonofabitch out, you just get tired of looking at it and buy a new one.”

Those words have a ring of authenticity rarely found in testimonials, and I will wager dollars against donuts that if Detroit had listened as carefully to Leonard as Leonard listened to the truckers, today we would not so often find ourselves driving behind pick-up trucks with the word Toyota on their tailgates. But Detroit’s loss was literature’s gain. Thirty years later there is a thick shelf of Leonard works, three of which are collected in this volume, which is a kind of club sandwich for the many thousands of us who have robust appetites for Leonard’s work.

Leonard got his nickname-Dutch-when he was a boy and there was a major league baseball player named Emil “Dutch” Leonard. Emil Leonard was the sort of player the boys in the press box call a “journeyman.” He broke into the big leagues in 1933 and pitched for twenty seasons, generally with teams (the Brooklyn Dodgers, Washington Senators, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs) that rarely rose to mediocrity. He had one sensational season, going 20-8 in 1939. He finished his career with 191 wins and 181 losses, which was not at all bad. In fact, late in his career baseball people came to realize that his record was remarkably good, considering that in his two decades of toil, only two of his teams had seasons in which they won more games than they lost.

Elmore Leonard’s career has been bit a like that. Appreciation has come late. But the appreciation must be all the more satisfying to him because it is coming from readers who, like the boys in the bleachers and press boxes, are real aficionados, not just people whose attention is attracted only by a noisy splash. Elmore Leonard is not a journeyman anymore. He is an all-star.

Emil Leonard relied a lot on his knuckle ball. Most breaking pitches derive their motion from the speed and spin the pitcher imparts to the ball. A knuckle ball is slow and, ideally, has no spin. The slowness makes it tantalizing to hitters, but the lack of spin gives it an erratic motion that makes it effective. (It is elusive to catchers as well as hitters. One catcher, asked how to catch a knuckle ball, said, “You wait until it stops rolling, then pick it up.”)
Elmore Leonard’s novels are like that-like literary knuckleballs. Their effectiveness derives from their realism. The realism is in the elusive path of the narrative. This might be the place for me to wax metaphysical, to say that life is like a knuckle ball because ... But Leonard is the least metaphysical of writers. He deals in small, telling details, not the Big Picture. However, he knows that if you gather enough of the right details, you have, at the end of the day, a picture, and a true one.

A knuckle ball pitcher is apt to last, as Emil Leonard did, he is apt to have his mind on the long haul, and to plan to make it with something other than a spectacular-and perishable-fastball. He survives on nuance, not speed. Sportswriters specialize in picking precisely the right adjectives, and the one they prefer for knuckle ballers is crafty.

Elmore Leonard is like that–crafty in several senses. His stories come at you sideways; often he portrays the world as it looks when just glimpsed, as a motion or shadow, out of the corner of the mind’s eye. He also is crafty in the sense that he brings to the business of writing novels the discipline of a craftsman. There are few flourishes and no wasted motion.

Two years ago I bought my first Elmore Leonard novel, in Cleveland, in his kind of place. Cleveland, an elemental place, is not long on flourishes. Since then I have read thirteen more of his novels. Recently, while eating lunch where I work (at home), I read a newspaper story reporting the publication of a new Leonard novel. I put down my sandwich and drove directly to a bookstore. It was a peanut butter and pickle sandwich I abandoned, so you know Leonard is good.

After publishing twenty-three novels in thirty-two years, he finally made the New York Times best-seller list with Glitz. His good luck is good news because [luck had nothing to do with it.] Craftsmanship has been rewarded. The reading public has come to its senses and made the gratifying discovery that a fine talent has been on hand for a long time.

Leonard lives in Birmingham, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, where some of his stories are set. The description of Detroit as “Cleveland without the glitter” could come from one of his novels. Detroit is not Bloomsbury, but then Leonard, with his gray beard and a wardrobe consisting mainly of a tweed jacket and cloth cap, says he is not an artist, he is just an entertainer. Just? As though it is not a complex art to be as entertaining as he is.

His books are not exactly crime novels, although crimes occur and guns go off. But the guns do not go off often enough for the sort of people who cannot be entertained by anything more subtle than a train wreck. Hollywood took a splendid Leonard novel, Stick, and made a dreadful movie of it. Hollywood accomplished this by souping up the story with lots of machine guns. Moviemakers, like all hyperkinetic children, cannot stand a measured pace. Leonard is not for children.

By the way, the title of Stick comes from the name of one of Leonard’s most memorable, and in an odd way admirable, characters, Ernest Stickley, Jr. lie is admirable because he has talent without being a blowhard. He, too, does well what he does, and does it without playing to the grandstand. Of course you expect a sort of, shall we say, reserve from people whose chosen profession is stealing cars and sticking up stores. Mr. Stickley first appears in Swag, which is included in this collection. In that novel you will learn more than nice boys and girls should know about the science and art of armed robbery.

Leonard’s novels are about marginal people, small people incompetent at even petty crime; or his novels are about quiet professionals who, like Leonard, arc underestimated for a long time. Leonard uses no verbal pyrotechnics. Yet his style is as strong and personal as Van Gogh’s brushstrokes. You could snip four square inches from any Van Gogh canvas, put the patch in front of almost anyone, and the person would instantly identify the painter. Leonard’s readers could do something like that with any passage from his novels. He has perfect pitch for the street talk you might hear on some of America’s mean streets.

Leonard errs on the side of under explaining himself. He knows how easy it is to suffer over-interpretation at the hands of others. Assistant professors being what they are (incorrigible, for starters), there are thick volumes full of turgid essays clogged with coagulated passages about crime novels as sublimations of the class struggle. I recently read (well, started to) an essay that lays down this law: Detective stories are popular because secret crime and subsequent discovery are associated in the reader’s subconsciousness with (I am not making this up; I could not) the “primal scene.” What is that? That is a psychoanalytic term referring to a child’s imagining of sexual intercourse between his or her parents.
Leonard, too, has suffered semi academic attention. A reviewer once said of him, “The aesthetic sub-text of his work is the systematic exposure of artistic pretension.” Leonard retaliated. In his novel LaBrava, the protagonist, a photographer, refers to an exhibition of his pictures: “The review in the paper said, the aesthetic sub-text of his work is the systematic exposure of artistic pretension.’ I thought I was just taking pictures.

Leonard’s insistence that he is just a storyteller expresses pride, not humility. He has a craftsman’s pride that being a fine craftsman is good enough, thank you.

He sold his first fiction in 1951, to Argosy magazine, and his first novel, a Western, in 1953. His mother wishes he were still writing Westerns because the language would be less gamy. Until he sold to Hollywood his novel Hombre (voted one of the twenty-five best Westerns of all time by the Western Writers of America), he had to work full-time writing advertising copy. Well, Wallace Stevens worked in an insurance office, T. S. Eliot at a bank, Anthony Trollope at the post office.

After Hombre, Leonard stopped writing Westerns and started making books the way a custom cobbler makes shoes: steadily. He writes from 9:30 AM. to 6:00 P.M. He has been called the Dickens of Detroit because of the colorful characters he creates from the seamier side of life. But he reminds me of Trollope. This is not, Lord knows, because of his subjects, but because of his approach to his craft.

Trollope kept a meticulous diary of the pages he wrote. He noted that such discipline is considered beneath a man of genius. But, he said cheerfully, not being a genius, he had to be disciplined. You say that anyone who works with his imagination should wait for inspiration? Trollope said it would be just as absurd to say that a shoemaker should wait for inspiration. Writers, he said, should sit themselves at their desks as though they were clerks, and should sit until their daily writing quota is filled. If they adopt his quota, they will produce a book in four months.

Leonard’s “sudden” success-he is an “overnight sensation” after more than thirty years of hard plugging-is a tribute to
America. Here people are not homogenized, and cream rises. If you want a sip of the cream, start with these three novels, and then read Stick. Then, if you are not hooked, go watch television. It will serve you right.


GEORGE F. WILL

June 1985

 

 

 

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