Re: RARA-AVIS: Crafty argument

From: Mark Sullivan ( AnonymeInc@WEBTV.NET)
Date: 08 Feb 2000

So Jim, where do I get one of those sweaters? And how did you know I have twelve arms?

Actually, damn good analogy.

Now this may surprise you a bit, given the thrust of my recent argument, but I'm not one of those who believes Pelecanos is the savior of hardboiled (I'd be far more likely to name Jack O'Connell or one the the Fresh Blood Brits to that title). For instance, he was not on my blown-away list. I think he's pretty good, not great, at least not based on the earlier books I have read. Note -- this is being said without having read any of the DC quartet (damn Ellroy for making everyone think in 'tets), which I do plan to read.

However, you and I seem to have diametrically opposed ideas on his strengths and weaknesses. I'm not overly thrilled by the plots at the core of the Nick Stefanos books, they seem a bit filled out to me, too. You see the solution in strip-mining the extraneous detail of Nick's life and getting to that core. I think that would be a very short book, more likely a short story. Someone has already mentioned his problem with endings. I agree with this, even in his more tightly plotted Shoedog, which I did think was great up until then.

Okay, so what do I like? I like following Nick around and watching his struggle between the inertia he openly courts and the responsibility he clearly feels, no matter how much he tries to drown it in booze. I'm a sucker for weary detectives who want to give up but can't.

You see the repetition of his cultural details as filler, I see it as a crucial part of his character. Let me be a little clearer, his character is revealed as much in the repetition as in the details themselves. I don't think of this shared trait of Pelecanos and Tarantino as cultural commentary, more like cultural placement. It's part of that listmaking mania Maura pointed out and is a part of guy collector mentality, just as it is crucial in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. That book isn't hardboiled, far from it, but Nick would get along very well with its characters. Nick is adrift, his continual mantra of brand and band names is his way of shoring himself. I'm a record collector and can identify with the pathology.

And I must admit that part of the appeal probably lies in where these books are set. Nick's home is less than a mile from my own. I've hung out in the same clubs, listened to the same music while driving along the same roads. So there is a bit of sentimental attachment; I relate very directly to these specific details.

Still, although far more incessant, is Nick's cataloging different from Nameless' collection of pulp mags or Elvis Cole's listing of his Disney figurines?

Oh yeah, I'm on my third Hap and Leonard book by Joe Lansdale (this may also be a surprise given my recent stance in the professional vs. amateur debate, but I'd be very happy if Lansdale were the future of hardboiled, he's now on my blown-away list). These books are clearly as much about the relationship between these two friends as about the rather bare plots at their core. Do you lump these with Pelecanos vein of dancing around when they should be moving forward or see them as character development? I'd certainly say the latter. And I think he's better at it than Pelecanos, at least in the books of theirs I've read so far. (I didn't like Act of Love nearly as much as the Hap and Leonards.)

Still, I like Pelecanos enough that I am looking forward to the DC Quartet.


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