Thursday, July 05, 2007

Follow up on lit crit

I keep getting off-line e-mails about my posts on some of today's crime fiction. I've pretty much said my piece about the Tarrentino-influenced books I get for review. One writer noted that these books represent a "movement" that I don't seem to grasp and that there will be, if there haven't been already, some good books to come from it.

I agree. There will likely be be a number of good books to come from it, just as there have always been good books coming from a variety of literary movements. In popular fiction, there was the New Wave in science fiction, for instance. A lot of it looks silly or prepostorously pretentious from this point in time but it also produced a fair number of real masterpieces that are still read and revered today. And will be for many many decades to come.

Splatterpunk in horror also produced some masterpieces, though far fewer by my lights, and if they're not much read and revered today, they were still important and influential and a few of them will certainly endure.

As I said many times in my years editing Mystery Scene, it all comes down to what gives us pleasure as readers. You can make arguments for and against--you can throw out ibids and Latin phrases--you can compare this one to Hemkngway and that one to Chaucer--but in the end we read what we enjoy reading, all other matters aside.

And that's all I was saying, really. Saying that this I enjoy and this I don't.


Anonymous said...

"As I said many times in my years editing Mystery Scene. . . we read what we enjoy reading, all other matters aside."

Actually, Mystery Scene will not review books by authors who are not published by MWA approved publishers. That is a very sad form of prejudice. So, I would respectfully disagree with you "all other matters aside" statement.

Ed Gorman said...

I guess I don't understand the connection between what I said and Mystery Scene's current policy on anything. Sorry. Ed

Anonymous said...

Ed, I don't read enough contemporary crime fiction to know what may or may not be Tarantino-influenced. I tend to stick with the stuff I know (Block, Westlake, Collins, Leonard, McBain while he was still with us ...)and -- unfortunately -- I'm not as adventurous as I should be in trying unfamiliar writers.

Of the novels I've read in the last 3-4 years, I guess I would point to Bruen and Starr's BUST and Gischler's GUN MONKEYS as two that seem to have some affinity with Tarantino's universe. On the other hand, I suspect that it's more a matter of Bruen & Starr, Gischler, and Tarantino all reflecting a common fondness for the low-life settings of Elmore Leonard, Jim Thompson, and such.

When I got into reading hardboiled in the late '60s, the field was still dominated by 1) the classic PI novel or similarly macho-oriented variations thereof (JDM and the other Gold Medal guys, Ross Mac, Dennis Lynds under his various pennames, Spillane, etc), and 2) the big caper novels put together by guys like Westlake/Stark and Marlowe -- steely protagonists and clockwork heists.

Into the '70s, the pattern still held, and the young turks like Al Collins and Loren Estleman somewhat modernized the genre but still paid respect to the conventions, more or less. Then into the '80s and early '90s, as the old guys passed away and newer (if not always younger successors) came on the scene, and as Elmore Leonard hit the big time, it seemed to me that the pattern changed somewhat. Fewer take-charge protagonists like Travis McGee and Lew Archer, more goofy or oddball supporting characters, more wacked-out bad guys, and grungier settings. I think the Thompson revival of 1986-96 bolstered this trend, as did SCARFACE and MIAMI VICE. Willeford and Woodrell helped fill the ranks, and Tarantino pulled freight in the movies.

The other big shift in detective fiction, seems to me, is the stuff that derives from Thomas Harris and CSI -- the hunt for effete serial maniac Hasdrubal Manticore by burned out FBI Special Agent Roger Mortis that hinges on Agent Mortis finding Mom's undigested big toe in the stomach of the autopsied cadaver that was pulled out of the Hudson River yesterday.

I've tried to avoid most of the movies that clearly seem to tip their hat to Tarantino but I must admit that of the ones I've seen, some I liked. For example, SMOKIN' ACES, which has a couple of outrageous scenes that made me laugh out loud.

I wonder if the dismal showings for GRINDHOUSE and HANNIBAL RISING suggest that the popularity of Tarantino and Harris has about run its course?