Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Old and new

I received three off-blog letters about the John D. post the other night. Two of the people were in their Thirties and felt that he was a slow read. And one was in his Fifties and thought he read just fine.

I make a point of their ages because I think it's an important consideration. Folks from age forty-five and up were raised in a very different culture from those who came after. Happy News was inaguarated in 1968. The dictum there was that people wouldn't sit still for any TV news story longer than sixty seconds. Anchors also began their inane blabbing to on-air subordinates. Ted Baxter reigned.

Movies changed, too. Action flicks, riding the back of spaghetti westerns, were as much spectacles as stories. The movie Help influenced films, too. Fast cuts, disjointed narrative lines, images for images' sake.

If you grew up under the influence of all this (and many many other changes in popular culture) I can see why John D might read slow. He came from a time when fiction was fixed on sociology. He was an enormous fan of John O'Hara. Open any O'Hara novel and you'll see half page long paragraphs. You'll find an indelible impression of the world he's working in. Sociology. Backstory. Writing.

Take a look at any early 87th Precinct and compare it to the later ones. From 1992 or so they haul ass as they never had before. The reader doesn't get all those great rambling takes on mores and morals that McBain was so good at. The marketplace had changed.

These days long books make me groan. I like short books. I've even been known to enjoy a Stuart Wood (but not for several years) and James Patterson (before he decided he wanted to make enough money to buy France). But not a steady diet thereof. There are plenty of thoughtful writers in our field, everybody from Laura Lippman to S.J. Rozan to Nancy Pickard to Michael Connelly. These and many others are the ones that give lasting pleasure.

I think Elmore Leonard is probably the right writer for this time. He reads fast, he's fun and he's clever as hell. He likes to say that he leaves out stuff other writers leave in. I think he's on to something there.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I just wish that EL had more to say about women. That's his Achilles Heel.

John McFetridge said...

I would peg it at 1972 not 1968, otherwise, you're bang on.

I have to say, though, the early short stories of Ed McBain which were collected in a book last year, I think, read much more like the later novels.

It makes sense to me that the more stories people 'see' and hear and read, the more the form has to change. Less needs to be described in the much more visual world we live in now. It's a challenge for writers to find just the right words, and just the right amount of words to tell their stories.

And, while I'm babbling away (using too many words), I have to disagree about Elmore Leonard and women. This may have been true in the '70's with the very early urban crime novels, but it certainly hasn't been the case since.

The thing is, he has a lot to say about women, it just isn't all that nice. Which is exactly the way he treats most of his male characters. Which is certainly honest to his work.

There are a lot of female cops in Elmore Leonard books, too, and they're treated just like the male cops.

Now that I think about it, the character Lee from Unknown Man #89is one of the most insightful, thoughtful representations of an alcoholic in fiction.

Ed Gorman said...

Now that I think about it, the character Lee from Unknown Man #89is one of the most insightful, thoughtful representations of an alcoholic in fiction.--

I'd sure agree with you there. Ed

Anonymous said...


I haven't read a John D. in years, but when I gulped down a bunch in the 80's I loved them (I'm 49, btw).

Re movies and television, I blame MTV for the ludicrously sped-up nature of modern media. A number of years ago I was viewing "Carrie" with my cousin's kids, and they were bemoaning its s-l-o-w-n-e-s-s, especially the long pan up the rope to the bucket of blood. I was bemused.

Jeff P.