Re: RARA-AVIS: Elmore Leonard

From: David Moran (
Date: 22 Jan 2004

Leonard? I don't know about that. He was a lot more interesting when he was writing westerns. I try my best not to be a genre snob, but, really, when you put guys like Elmore Leonard and Donnie Westlake next to other English-language winners of the past--Kipling, Yeats, Eliot, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Eugene O'Neill, to name a few--the genre guys, to my ear, compare quite unfavorably (although I am willing to concede that if Bernard Shaw deserves a Nobel, then anyone does). They're great writers...not that great though.

If I had to pick any crime-ish or genre-ish writer today who deserves to win, or at least to be nominated, it'd be James Ellroy (in English) or Mario Vargas Llosa (in not English).

I don't necessarily chalk this up to a fundamental unfitness of crime and/or genre fiction, just symptomatic of a general decline of English letters in the last two or three decades. American literature pretty much sucks these days. I haven't discovered a new American writer I've been really excited about in ten years (when I simultaneously happened upon Cormac McCarthy and James Ellroy). But, then again, if Leonard or Ellroy don't deserve to win a Nobel, who in America really does? I think the Nobel committee's picks of the last twenty years have been pretty iffy (Jose Saramago, Wislawa Szymborska, Toni Morrison and Derek Walcott are all highly questionable; while Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nadine Gordimer, William Golding and that retard Saul Bellow are just, to my mind, outrageous). So maybe anyone's fair game these days.

A great book to read on this score is B.R. Myers's "A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose." I usually hate literary polemics, but Myers has got a lot of really smart things to say about the way American letters have been going; he doesn't blame an increasingly illiterate populace, but a mutual back-scratching conspiracy of bad authors and snobby critics. Myers bashes a number of critically adored writers that unequivocally deserve to be bashed. Unfortunately, one of those writers happens to be my beloved Cormac McCarthy, but Myers makes some very good points about him, taking him to task for his most egregious excesses of windbaggy, overheated prose. The offenses seem even worse when he compares them to passages of unpretentious concision and clarity from Zane Grey.

also re: Cormac McCarthy. I'm surprised no one's mentioned his "Outer Dark." It's my favorite one of his. Powerful stuff.

David Moran

Mario Taboada wrote:

> <<PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER's book editor is demanding a Nobel
> for Leonard.>>
> I've wondered the same thing many times. The US could put a
> great lineup for the Nobel with, say, Bradbury, Leonard,
> Westlake and Cormac McCarthy --I did not say Updike or
> Oates. Crime and SF writers have been for decades among the
> most interesting US writers. Not a great secret, except to
> The Establishment. I do not equate The Establishment with
> academics. In my experience, academics read a lot of crime
> fiction. At least, that's what I see in their home
> libraries.
> Best,
> MrT

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