RE: RARA-AVIS: The House of Hard-boiled

From: Robison Michael R CNIN (
Date: 27 Mar 2003

Kevin wrote:

>Nah. When you write about an era, you should write about it, not
>worry about someone thirty years down the line. To write about
>Pelecanos' (and my) generation, and not mention the pop culture of
>the time is to miss an important aspect.

>As for music, well, for some people -- and a lot of people around
>George's age -- music does matter. Vitally. And music is often a
>powerful distinguishing trait.

>Hell, who smokes Fatimas these days? Who drives a Duesenberg? Doesn't
>make the Op stories any weaker...

>The idea is to open yourself up to another era, another generation,
>another world; not wish for books to be set in some bland,
>colourless, neutral time.

************** An era can be evoked without leaving those that weren't there clueless. I believe I mentioned that O'Hara, Heath, and Gores did a good job of it. Sixty years later a lot of people know know that a Duesenberg is a fancy car. And they can figure out from context that a Fatima is some kind of exotic cigarette. Now I understand that after 300 years the whole damn language is gonna change and what's written now will sound like Chaucer, but Pelecanos is making subtle and significant references that are obscure before the ink is dry on the page.

And yes, one of the great opportunities of reading is to open yourself up to a different era. My point is that if you don't understand the musical references, then an important part of the book is closed to you. A typical reader cannot "open" himself to the era because the references are obscure. Pelecanos is only evoking the era to those who already know about it. And I am only talking about the narrow sense of the music references here, too. The alcohol, drugs, and racial tension come through loud and clear even for the musically challenged.

I really didn't mean to make a big deal out of it. Melville's
"Call me Ishmael," doesn't mean much to somebody who hasn't at least read the Cliff Notes for the BIBLE. James Joyce just ain't gonna be as much fun if you don't know that Ulysses is Latin for Odysseus, and that he made a long strange trip a long time ago. Obscure references are a time-honored literary tradition. What am I beefin' about?


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