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

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 27 Mar 2003

miker wrote:

"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."

Let me draw an analogy. I don't drink, so I am largely unaware of and indifferent to names of drinks and brands of alcohol. In case you haven't noticed, these come up a lot in hardboiled books, including, if not especially those of Pelecanos. However, I far prefer the use of detail, even if it passes me by. It's kind of like that (probably apocryphal) story that eskimos have a slew of different words for snow because of its ubiquity in their lives. Drinkers and drug users have a nuanced language for their obsessions. Even if they mean little to me, the specific names show the importance of alcohol to the characters.

So even if many of the specific musicians and/or songs mentioned by Pelecanos pass by some readers, doesn't the detail still reveal the importance of music to those characters and, as Kevin has pointed out, their generation. While alllowing that Pelecanos does have a tendency to lay it on a little thick, (even if I get a kick out of the lists, in a hardboiled High Fidelity kind of way), wouldn't you rather the specifics than, "They all liked music a lot." And those who do know the specific references get a little extra glimpse into the characters through their taste.


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