Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Pelecanos (and Adams)

From: Mark Sullivan ( AnonymeInc@WEBTV.NET)
Date: 07 Feb 2000

Jim wrote:

"I'm convinced that to write for those awash in an M-TV, and action movie culture, the crime fiction writer needs to tell a strong, spare, compressed story in which the author is nowhere to be found."

Why must print fiction be dictated by the demands of other media?

Personally, I side up with Greg on this, it's a postmodern attribute in Pelecanos's writing. For instance, I just read Down by the River. In a total aside, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, Nick picks up a Ringo Lam video for his collection. Now, that to me captures the MTV/action movie culture. It tells me something about the character, both in his choice in video and the fact that he bought it when he did. He is a member of that MTV/action movie culture and no matter what is going on in his life, he will buy and watch videos and music, crime-solving is but a part of his overall life and I am interested in his overall life, not just his life as a detective. Plus, I will admit I got a kick out of the reference itself, both because I felt cool for recognizing the reference and because I could relate to it, being a Ringo Lam fan myself.

Which brings us to another Ringo Lam fan, Quentin Tarantino, who used parts of Lam's City on Fire as source material for his very different Reservoir Dogs:
"I think that too frequently and for no good reason (one that is necessary to the story) Pelecanos often fails to do that. Quentin Tarantino does the same stuff with his movies. That's why he grows so tiresome."

First, are you saying character development is a non-essential element, that it should merely be stripped down action?

Second, this is exactly what I like about QT, his constant referencing, his postmodern approach of everything being grist for his mill. What is growing tiresome is the celebrity personality he is having so much fun creating while forgetting to actually make movies.
"Not only do I disagree with your assessment that Pelecanos is
"extending " Leonard's work, I think Pelecanos is at his best when he is working hard to mimic Leonard's economy."

There was indeed a time when Leonard was economical. That was some time ago. And I have become less enamored with him as he has expanded his page-count. There is enough there to remind me of what I used to like, but there are duds in between the effective tales. And frankly, Leonard drops a lot of brand names, too -- Chili Palmer is no less defined by his consumer choices than Nick Stefanos, even if his brand names tend more towards the sartorial.

"Whatever is needed to reveal the characters, develop a sense of place and time, evoke a mood, and tell a story belongs in the book."

Which is exactly why I feel all that brand name-dropping belongs in the Pelecanos books. As much as the names themselves, the urge to drop them defines the characters and the times in which they live, about which Pelecanos writes. Of course, it doesn't hurt that just about every one rings some kind of cultural bell with me.

"Everything else is either poor craftsmanship or a writer who can't shut up or who is showing off. Pelecanos is too good to be guilty of poor craftsmanship."

To me, the debate seems to be more about style than craft. Sure, these books are not crafted in the style you prefer, but I, at least, believe they are well-crafted.


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